Paula's Blog

Spokane! 

Since we finished recording upcoming album "Carnival of Miracles," we've sought to play gigs around Washington State to gear up for a national tour after "Carnival's" release in March 2015. We'd never played an Eastern Washington gig before so with excitement and trepidation we set out to conquer Spokane with song. Legendary The Big Dipper seemed like the perfect venue: storied, resurrected, great acoustics, downtown and owned by Sunny Day Real Estate band's Dan Hoerner and wife Dawson.

We marketed mostly to lawyers, business folks and the Gonzaga University community though we were also able to get a great Spokane jam band to open for us, Bodhi Drip, who's founder, Lucas Brown is the son of Lisa Brown, who served 20+ years in the Washington State Legislature and is now chancellor of Washington State University Spokane.

Winter is not always kind to Spokane and the bitter cold, dipping into the low teens Fahrenheit was not for the faint of heart -- even on a Friday night. Nonetheless, as folks trickled in The Big Dipper became increasingly electric.

Bodhi Drip did their thing and job, causing the crowd to want more. We started with "Look Straight Ahead" and right away we knew the crowd was with us. Ninety minutes later ending with a roaring rockabilly cover of Led Zeppelin's "Rock & Roll" the crowd had danced to a third of our set. Dan and Dawson invited us back and we can't wait. Thanks Spokane!

Reunions 


Walking along a tree-lined boulevard dotted with Craftsmen-styled Greek houses I encounter young women wearing shorts and attitude and young men sauntering confidently past me, not really seeing. I've been here before, thirty-three years ago when I first walked down this same street in September 1981. Back then, I was also older than most folks as I headed to orientation for first year students at University of California at Berkeley School of Law, known then as "Boalt Hall." The "Sig Ep" house looks more polished than I recall and the students seem a little more world-wise or world-weary?

A flood of emotions overcome me. This is not my first time returning to Berkeley nor is it even my first law school reunion. But somehow this feels different. Thirty years. I've been a lawyer 30 years and excelled in and retired from a profession I never embraced fully as my own. For me Berkeley was a place of moment, ambivalence and contradiction. Far later than most people, this is where I discovered the early Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, Tom Waits, Ry Cooder and The Grateful Dead. I almost died three times in Berkeley -- twice while on a bicycle and another when unknowingly I stumbled upon an ongoing burglary in my best friend's home. In Berkeley I was perhaps more fit than before or after, made life long friends, attended my first Rolling Stones concert, met my first real lover and taught bus drivers, architects, lawyers and waitresses the finer points of using a new-fangled weight machine system called Nautilus.

Berkeley's colors burn bright within me and time refuses to fade. I could not live here but part of me never leaves. Looking back across the 30 years, Berkeley was the perfect place for ME to attend law school. It was not fun, hard work did not always payoff and there was much to dislike. But I became a woman here and these sounds, smells, sights and emotional landscape launched the lawyer and human that followed. So THANKS!

Vacations, Vacations. 


When they're good, vacations center, rejuvenate and make it all seem, well...just better. For the past week I've stayed up longer, woken to splashing and hypnotic waves meeting shore, savored that morning cup of Joe a little more and soaked in unprecedented Puget Sound sunshine. Exercise comes easily on the shore and seafood in particular is awfully fresh. People are nicer too. Fresh air and low stress spawn "good mornings" and "is your dog friendly?" My honey and I strike easy rhythms of independence and togetherness. We talk and read more while iPads and Facebook take more a back seat. I've not played guitar as much but that's OK too. It's vacation!

Gearing Up for Bear Creek Studios Chapter II 

It's stunning to believe a year's gone by. That's right. It's been 12 months since Paula Boggs Band spent 2 weeks recording 10 tracks at the enchanting Bear Creek, a 45 minute drive Northwest of Seattle in a town called Woodinville. Back then we were trying to make a record anchored by a mournful Americana tune called "Carnival of Miracles" -- inspired by the Newtown, CT tragedy where so many children and their teachers were slain by a young madman. The song also showcases a vet's voice that reveals love for her country while urging us to do and be better as a great nation. We made good vibes and were fortunate to be guided by producer Jonathan Plum and SNL veteran engineer Josiah Gluck.

Though our upcoming record will still tap "Carnival" as a centerpiece, we decided our 2013 sound was too diverse and we've since upped our game through performing, rehearsals and being more purposeful in creating what we call "soulgrass" -- a sound that combines jazz chord progressions and soulful vocals with traditional "Americana" instruments like acoustic guitar, banjo, standup bass, washboard, melodica and a variety of acoustic percussive instruments.

This time we'll be guided by Grammy-winning producer and engineer Trina Shoemaker who comes to us from Fairhope, AL and was nominated for BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM -- NONCLASSICAL just last year. In an industry with few women producers or engineers, Trina stands out and earns respect the old-fashioned way -- talent, grit, endurance and never burning a bridge.

Sandy, Tor, Mark, Andrew, Jarrett and I could not be more thrilled to work with Trina and return to Bear Creek to record six tracks between July 9-20th. Stay tuned as we post photos and impressions over the next few weeks. And as always, THANKS for supporting us!!

Keith Jarrett and the Power of Identity 

It shouldn't matter. It really shouldn't matter and I'm a little embarrassed to admit it does. Today I learned legendary jazz pianist Keith Jarrett is white and my head feels light as I navigate disorientation and re-read the words. I hadn't planned to Google Keith Jarrett today but was inspired to learn more about the man who in a very real sense inspired me to love jazz back in the 70s as a teenager living in Germany with my mom and siblings. Prior to hearing Jarrett's music, I'd met black jazz musicians living and performing in Europe through my mom, an elementary school principal in the Department of Defense School System, and her bohemian friends -- some fellow teachers and others just passing through. I'd listen to these musicians jam and they produced sounds very different from those I'd known as a black Catholic in Richmond, VA. I can safely say, my world was devoid of jazz before moving to Europe. It wasn't in our home or other homes I knew. It wasn't in my school or church and I didn't hear it on the radio.

Ironically, given the United States gave birth to jazz, moving to Germany changed all that for me little by little. The white parents of my best friend were jazz lovers and some of the black jazz musicians I met in the early 70s hung out at their home. Folks like Charles Jefferson, a gifted trumpeter from Seattle and Ernie Butler, who played tenor sax, often dropped by and sometimes pulled out their instruments. Charles was married to my music teacher Sueellen and they were the first interracial couple I'd ever laid eyes on. Charles was a "cool cat" -- light-browned skin, slight frame, huge fro, sometimes wearing a dashiki and shades, whose voice sounded as smooth as the tones he made jump from his trumpet. As a budding songwriter, I could not help but be influenced by these new sounds and the folks who made them.

Almost 40 years later, I can't remember how I learned about or got hold of Keith Jarrett's 1975 live jazz piano masterpiece, The Koln Concert, but it was transcendent. I'd never heard anything so beautiful and yet primal, including the grunts and other noises Jarrett made as he played. I was hooked. Jarrett had made this music not far from my home and he looked like he could be Charles Jefferson's brother -- same complexion, same fro. I'm not sure how many times I listened to The Koln Concert in my last 2 years of high school but it was one of the treasures that came with me when I returned to the US for college. The Koln Concert inspired me to explore other Jarrett works and through my college years I came to associate him with other jazz greats like Herbie Hancock -- that rare breed of gifted black musician as comfortable in rock, gospel, R&B and classical. I just assumed Jarrett was black and though largely unconsciously, that fact somehow made him a role model in my efforts to defy genre in the music I write.

Of course my love for Jarrett's music is no less now that I know he's white. But this recent experience reinforces for me how important role models can be in the lives of our youth. Would I still be writing music had I known in the 70s Jarrett was white? I'd like to think so and I'd also like to think I'd be as adventurous with my music. But I don't know, I'll never know. And I guess that's the point.

Band Member Spotlight -- Drummer & Music Director Sandy Greenbaum 

Sandy grew up in Southern California and started drumming at age 12. After forming a band with friends at 13 he knew music was what he wanted to do in life and never looked back. At 16, he Iearned the elements of jazz and mixed with a rock background, formed a love for creating music with new horizons. In the early 90's he relocated to the Pacific Northwest and stays busy playing, recording and teaching. In addition to PAULA BOGGS BAND, of which hes been a member since 2007, Sandy works with many singer-songwriters in Seattle and is often busy working in the studio. Hes played shows all over the US and some in Canada and leads a jazz group called Urban Improv. Sandy also plays with Seattle Central Jazz Orchestra and Mach One Jazz Orchestra, one of Seattle's top big band ensembles.

Austin 

As we gear up to release a new record in 2014 of course burning questions include where to tour and how to give the best show? I thought Austin was a natural --lived there 5 years, it's a music town, etc. Our recent trip was a great learning experience about the where and how:

1. The marketing formula works but not always. We've had success in cities beyond Seattle -- Portland, Oregon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York, New York -- through a combination of social media exposure/marketing, tapping into networks -- HS, college and law school alum, business, lawyers, associations I or other band members are connected with, etc, tying our performance to speaking engagements, at least 1 favorable blog/article and word of mouth. We weren't able to get that traction in Austin though the 50 or so folks at The Belmont dug the music and had a good time. Lesson: we need to refine our list of tour cities.
2. When you ask people to dance, they often will. Our encore was "The Way You Look Tonight" and when we urged folks to dance, they did! I could have done that earlier in the show -- lesson learned.
3. Opening bands can set a great tone. I thought The Belmont did a good job pairing us with local Austin band Rixon. Their music was different than ours but upbeat, sophisticated and well played. It was also not so different to cause something akin to sonic whiplash.
4. Stuff always happens in a show...deal with it. We couldn't play one of the band's favorite songs -- Lenny -- because of my guitar's warped neck. After a couple attempts to tune the darn thing unsuccessfully we moved on -- the right answer for our crowd and show flow.
5. There's always another show. You gotta keep getting on the horse so this Saturday I plan to do 2-3 songs solo at a local open mic.

More soon.

It's a Marathon not a Sprint. 

We've been at it awhile now. The band started recording July 22 at Bear Creek Studios in Woodinville, WA, a half hour drive on a good day and a lifetime away from bustling Seattle. Time stills at Bear Creek, a repurposed barn that evokes Americana and all that's good. For 10 days we tuned, retreated to boxes aka sound booths, played and replayed songs and their parts, nursed egos as instruments and voices were chosen...or not by intrepid producer Jonathan Plum -- going through his own "thing" as he did what he did at a rival's studio. We got through it with a little drama but lots of joy and since August 1 we've been laying down overdubs and vocals at Jonathan's palace aka legendary London Bridge Studios.

Exhausted but determined, most of what we need is done before passing the baton to veteran mixing engineer Josiah Gluck. Right now it's all about the small stuff that when added together makes big stuff. Too many strings? A flat note or mispronounced word? Too much vibrato? Not enough congas? Too flat? A hundred decisions swirling now will hopefully lead to something special. Stay tuned!

Lyric Humility 

"It's not good enough," said the producer. " I don't know what you're saying." I wasn't quite prepared for this reaction because I wrote the song 7 years ago and performed it for almost as long. Moreover, many of my band members say it's their favorite song. So, yes, I was a little taken aback. But then I remembered why I hired this guy -- he's one of the best in town and it's his job to hear things I can't or won't. After a deep breath, I was ready to listen and read the chorus. And he helped me. We started reworking the chord progression -- a little less jazz, a little more "accessible" and making it longer.

We started with me playing the chords agreed on with made up words and a melody I created on the fly. He liked it so now it's time for homework: I need to write a new chorus based on the new chord progression and melody. I've never done this before and delayed for a couple days before tackling my assignment.

I started with:

"Where's it gonna go?
Honey I don't know.
It's a strain of Coltrane
Sands in the hourglass..."

My local Starbucks served as perfect host as I settled in with a little lunch, Klipsch headphones and a MacBook Pro. I started with John Coltrane. What more could I say about him in the context of this song? After refreshing myself on Coltrane's story, and a couple false starts, I decide to work with the lines in tandem rather than separately. I then google and read about "hourglasses" before returning to the verses and story I hoped to tell when it all comes together. The story is about "dangerous attraction" so the chorus needs to put a fine enough point on it for the listener. My old chorus failed that test -- and helpfully I could see that now.

With work and a little serendipity, here's where I ended up:

'Where's it gonna go?
Honey I don't know.
It's a strain of Coltrane -- raw emotion -- free fall jazz.
Every moment with you leans forward then snaps back.
A bolero of human circumstance, doing a dance that has no chance,
You and me are just sand in an hourglass.'

Though I'm not sure that's the "last word" on "Traces of You's" chorus, I do know I've grown as a songwriter by having someone challenge me to leave my comfort zone and "do better."
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