Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Behind the Soundtrack - "The Worst Percussionist in Band"

SPOILERS AHEAD: Please note that in order to continue blogging about the I AM DRUMS Soundtrack I will have to step into mild spoiler territory. If you haven't read the book yet, do that now.


I knew from the beginning this song had to represent a sad moment in the book. It almost became "Housebound Until Further Notice", but the chorus has an aura of slyness that made it more appropriate for earlier in the book, when Sam is making some questionable decisions.

I've always loved the sound of acoustic and electric guitars with harmonizing dual parts, and that's definitely on display in the second verse. It gives the whole song a hypnotic sound that I hadn't initially intended.

Recording the drums for the bridge was a nightmare. It's not difficult to play, but I recorded it a bunch of times and the groove was always off. Weird, funky, jazzy songs like this don't work unless the groove is as close to perfect as human hands are capable.

I still listen to the bridge and feel like the whole thing is audible trash, but everyone who hears it loves it so I guess I'm the weirdo here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Behind the Soundtrack - "Your Message Has Been Deleted"

This is easily one of my two favorite songs on the album. I'm really proud of the arrangement. The opening riff is a force to be reckoned with, and I want to jump up and down whenever the Grosso Brothers Band plays it live.

This is the only drum track on the album recorded without a snare mic, and in some ways I like this drum mix the best as a result. I'd love to say it was intentional, but the truth is I forgot to hook up the XLR cable to the mixing board before I hit record. At first I didn't even realize I was only using two mics (a kick drum and overhead) because the overhead mic had done such a great job picking it up.

The lesson here is you never manage to record the sound you want, but you may discover the sound you didn't know you wanted. 

Another fun fact: at one point I tried playing the opening bars before the drums and distortion kick in with an acoustic guitar. I almost released it that way, too, and I would've had no regrets if I'd done that. It sounded great both ways, but just like writers and teachers are always making decisions, so are musicians, especially in the studio.

I didn't realize it at the time, but there's a half-time riff in this one that is very much inspired by Carla Azar and Autolux, a drummer and band name-dropped in the book.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Behind the Soundtrack - "Encyclopedia Toms"

Behind the Soundtrack is a blog series featuring anecdotes and reflections on writing and recording Songs for Sam(antha): the I AM DRUMS Soundtrack. Go here to listen to samples from the entire album.


"Encyclopedia Toms" was originally the second song on the album, following an opening track that was tentatively titled "Take That, Danny!" at one point and "It Wasn't a Drumstick" at another.

I ended up bumping it up to the opening track because it felt right to open the album with a deceptively quiet riff that explodes when the chorus hits. The first minute of the song is like listening to a beginning musician transforming into a pro. It seemed appropriate for what might be in Sam's head while playing her fake desk set and imagining the real thing.

At one point I wanted a shuffling drum beat for the opening riff, but thankfully I dumped that idea. The drums really started coming together when I figured out the ride pattern on the chorus. The driving,  flying-down-the-highway-powered-by-the-speed-of-rock drumbeat for the rest of the song came naturally after that.

I worried about the title at first. It made sense for the story, of course, but I almost made the ill-advised decision to alter the drum beats to have more toms. If there is one thing I've learned about any form of art, it's that inauthentic, inorganic additions to meet imaginary criteria are almost always a mistake.

And I'd already managed to get some wicked tom fills in, so the title was already fitting.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hey Teachers & School Librarians! Win the I AM DRUMS Classroom Rockout Pack!

I've wanted to host a giveaway exclusively for educators for a long time.

Why? Your classroom rocks. Your students rock. YOU rock. But how is anyone ever going to know unless you have the "I AM DRUMS Classroom Rockout Pack"?

What's the Classroom Rockout Pack? It's a giveaway exclusively for classroom teachers and school librarians, running for approximately two weeks until April 4th.

I'm serious. Here is a list of people who CAN enter:

1) Classroom teachers
2) School librarians

Here is a list of people who CAN'T enter:

1) Stock Brokers
2) Personal Chefs
3) Your father
4) Dr. Dre
5) Daisy Ridley
6) Donald Trump (yeah, I had to go there)
7) Your neighbor with the really big dog
8) Anyone else who isn't an educator

Here's what the Classroom Rockout Pack contains:

- One signed hardcover of I AM DRUMS for your classroom library.
- A drumstick and postcard for each of your students (classrooms come in all sizes, but I unfortunately will not be able to supply more than 35 sticks at max and appreciate your honesty as to your actual number of students)

So what are you waiting for? Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I AM DRUMS chosen for the Illinois Reads 2017 Reading List

I've been sitting on this news for two months, so I'm excited to finally share that the Illinois Reading Council has chosen I AM DRUMS for its "Illinois Reads 2017" list!

"Illinois Reads" is a reading list comprised of six books for each age level. I AM DRUMS was chosen for grades 6-8.

I'll be attending the launch event in Wilmington in March. Until then, you can learn more about the Illinois Reads initiative here.

Hooray for reading lists that rock!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gift I AM DRUMS this holiday with a signed postcard

Give the gift of super loud rock and roll literacy with I AM DRUMS this holiday season!

Plus, if you email with proof of your purchase and mailing address and I'll send you a signed postcard and download code for "Songs for Samantha: the I AM DRUMS Soundtrack".

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

An Election Poem

A student asked who I was
voting for

I said
"I can't tell or
sway you
only provide tools
to cast your own when it's
your turn."

She was confused,
So I said

"Ask yourself my expectations as your teacher

Nice words
Kind hands
Constant learning
Complicated solutions
An open mind

I want for my country the same as my classroom
Nothing more. Nothing less.

Ask yourself which candidate would be most welcome here."

The student nodded and said

"I think I get your point."