A new world of opportunity opened up for me in the mid-90s when filmmaker Eric Khoo roped me into working on some music for his features Mee Pok Man, 12 Storeys and later on, Be With Me.
Ye faithful editor is back to regale you, dear PoPster, with his latest shenanigans in the world of popular (sic) music.
KayMac. Something new, something old. This is the moniker I will be using for the electronic art-pop instrumental music I will be making for the rest of my life. Somewhat distinct from the watchmen stuff, which will have lyrics and vocals. Continue reading “THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD: KAYMAC”
When Power of Pop started in or about 1998, ostensibly it was meant to cover a genre of pop music known as ‘power pop’. Although the genre was actually defined as “a style of pop music characterised by a strong melody line, heavy use of guitars, and simple rhythm” (exemplified by bands like The Raspberries, The Knack and Cheap Trick), Power of Pop expanded the definition to include concepts like an ability to convey spiritual and emotional meaning and a musical authority, which we would like to simplify as “music with heart and soul”.
This is Kevin Mathews, y’know the guy who owns this webzine, taking a break from normal programming to talk to you a little bit about this new album I have recorded under the watchmen moniker.
Organised jointly by cartoonist Sonny Liew and writer-historian CT Lim in conjunction with the National Library, Speech Bubble is a exhibition showcase of the marginalised art form popularly known as comic books. The opening night event was held last night at the National Library, Basement 1 Central Public Library and I was fortunate to get invited!
I will be giving a 90 mins talk on the late great David Bowie on February 11th. In this talk, I will be covering three main areas viz. A summary of the highlights of Bowie’s musical career with emphasis on the 70s, a quick look into Bowie’s work in movies and TV & Bowie’s legacy.
BigO (Before I Get Old) was a self-styled indie magazine that existed in print form from about 1985 to 2003 (give or take). Founded by Michael and Philip Cheah (with Stephen Tan) from the ashes of the Singapore Monitor, the magazine would be a major pop culture force in Singapore in the 1990s. Though it still exists online, its influence in local culture has been deliberately curtailed for reasons unknown.
Regular PoP visitors will be aware that I am a massive Beatles fan. The Fab Four (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison & Ringo Starr) were the first band I ever obsessed over as a teenager and Abbey Road – the band’s final LP – was the first album I ever owned.
By that time, the Beatles had broken up a couple of years already and the individual members were busy releasing their solo LPs. I had friends who were equally besotted with the Fab Four and together we even formed our first band – the Beatles-channeling Hornets in the mid-70s! Like many Beatles fans, I dreamed of a reunion and this seemed even more possible when John came out of his 5-year hiatus in 1980 & released Double Fantasy with his wife Yoko Ono.
Of course, that dream was smashed into pieces when John was murdered outside his home on 8th December that year. It’s almost 35 years since that fateful day but the Beatles remain in my view the best band the world has ever seen (and ever will see). One could argue that the Beatles were at the right time and place as the universe conspired to provide the perfect conditions for the band to irreversibly change the world and to write their names into the history books.
Even as the music industry evolves decade after decade and music revolutions come and go, the popularity of the Beatles remains constant and the music they created fifty odd years still resonate to music lovers worldwide. Though the band was once closely associated with the sixties, it’s might be said that they have transcended that epoch to stand alone and become truly timeless icons. Consider the immense popularly of teen idol Taylor Swift, a search on Youtube – probably one of the most popular websites that teens frequent – will provide about 6.1 million results. Guess how many results a Beatles youtube search will provide? How about 5.5 million! Not bad for a band that last released a new album in 1970.
And so… whilst it has been more than a good 40 years since I first heard a Beatles song, I rest assured that years may pass and the latest pop thing may disappear into oblivion (how long more for TayTay?) but one thing will stay the same – it will always be the Beatles Forever!
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Well, that’s done and dusted. As much as I enjoyed playing with The Groovy People (Patrick Chng, Ray Aziz, Nelson Tan and Josh Tan), I must admit that the whole experience was tiring – especially with the haze complicating matters. Still, it was seeing all the wonderful people come out to support us that made it all worthwhile.
If I needed to compare, the gig at Artistry was more satisfying, although it was fun to finally play on the Barber Shop stage. I don’t know what it is but overall it seems as if this whole music game has lost a little bit of its lustre in the last couple of weeks.
I guess you could say all the marketing and promotional efforts getting very minimal response has worn me down somewhat. You could say I am fed up with all the selling when folks aren’t buying. Y’know, after a while rejection takes its toll. But when you are in your 50s, it’s never ever going to be the same as a twentysomething no matter how good you think the music is.
That said, I am not hanging up my guitar anytime soon so too bad haters! It’s just that I am going to take it easy on the promotion and let things happen organically (whatever the hell that means in 2015!) and enjoy the rest of the year. I do have some ideas already for 2016 musically and we will see where I go with that but definitely the music will never ever stop. How could it?
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Photo courtesy of Jazreel-Anne.
It has been a long & winding road to reach this point in my life.
22 years since I released my first album with Watchmen back in August 1993 and numerous albums later, I believe that Present Sense is probably my best ever. Why do I make that assessment? Mainly because this has probably been the most hands-off I have ever been about the making of an album. And I was blessed to be working with amazingly talented artists, who poured out their immense creativity to grant vitality to my humble songs.
Back in the early 90s, I was deeply envious of Pat – he seemed to have everything I wanted in terms of a music life. A number one single, a great debut LP and a breakthrough into the public consciousness of Singaporeans – The Oddfellows were the first Singapore band to accomplish that in 30 years! But when I got to know him, I realised that he was much more than his accomplishments – his humility, grace & generosity touched me immensely. Pat was never far away from being a part of the music since then – whether it be working on “Orchard Road” for New School Rock III, on the Love EP or playing second guitar in Popland on numerous gigs. Some of you might already know this but two to three years ago, Pat pushed me to record again – after a hiatus of about four years – and so we did, in his home studio (and the now defunct Thom’s Loft) and the ultimate result was Emo FASCISM (September 2013) – and that got the juices going again with #alpacablues barely six months later. With Present Sense, I wanted to keep my arrangement ideas to a bare minimum – with Pat not only recording but co-producing this time out, especially with his rhythmic contributions. But where Pat is now truly deadly is his mixing and mastering – which in my opinion is second to none. I am always amazed by how he puts everything together post-recording and I never fail to be impressed.
I have to thank ex-head honcho of Pony Canyon Singapore, Jimmy Wee, for introducing me to Ray. I was looking for a drummer in the mid-90s and Ray turned out to be a perfect fit! Like Pat, Ray is a veritable local music legend – having played with numerous top local bands. Ray played drums on the three Popland releases viz. Groovy, Action! and the Camouflage EP. But it’s his infectious enthusiasm that is always a joy – it is impossible not to be buoyed by his seemingly boundless energy, even after all these years. For Present Sense, Ray came in for a day’s session at Leonard Soosay’s Snakeweed Studios (thanks to Daniel Sassoon) and finished 8 songs in 4 hours! Listening to the album, one would be unable to tell for sure! I feel privileged that twenty years later, we are still making groovy music together!
Nelson is a pure talent – he can do anything related to music. Music is his life and again, he plays in numerous bands and excels in each and every one. Nelson is a constant reminder to me that my music is not about sales or recognition but about the potential impact on people. When I finally sat down to have a serious chat with him, Nelson confessed to being a fan and shared that listening to the Democracy album as a 12 year old was one of the reasons he become a musician. Mind blown. How was that even possible? Far beyond anything I could have expected or imagined! It is an honour to be working with Nelson – apart from his wondrous bass playing – his passion and commitment to his craft and even to my songs – is an encouragement to keep going!
I first met Josh in 2007, when I interviewed his band The Fire Fight as part of Power of Pop’s Baybeats Festival coverage that year. Suffice to say, I have been a big fan of Josh and the band for its short lifetime and it was a memorable moment for me to share the stage with them on their farewell show in 2010 on “Train Song” (my favourite FF track). Present Sense was the first time collaborating together on the music and it was a revelation. Josh spent hours working on the guitar parts and his blood, sweat and tears are clearly evident on every track! Especially with “Magic” and “I walked away”, he made these songs his own, somehow tapping into the essence of my own artistic vision and painting in new vibrant colours! He is the soul of Present Sense – without Josh, Present Sense would not be what it is – my best album thus far!
Honourable mentions must also go to Eileen Chai for her stellar violin work on “Nothing Else” and “I walked away” and of course the voiceovers provided by Esther Low, James Khoo and X’ho.
Tonight, I will play the main bulk of Present Sense together with The Groovy People at The Barber Shop by Timbre in what might be my final show with the band for 2015. So I hope if you are free this Public Holiday eve you will make your way down and share this special occasion with us. The wonderfully talented melodic pop-rock band SUASION will be our guests, so please get there by 8pm.
Present Sense is out now at iTunes & streaming at rdio.com. I would greatly appreciate your support.
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Present Sense started life as a germ of an idea earlier this year. I put together a rough lineup of songs written in the last couple of years and as I did so, I noticed that there was a story unfolding before my eyes. Which is why Present Sense ended up being a loose concept album of sorts. I don’t want to explain the story too much but it is imperative that you listen to the album in its entirety to get the full impact. Suffice to say that there are certain auto-biographical aspects but at its core it’s fiction.
I was very fortunate to be able to benefit from the contributions of Joshua Tan (The Fire Fight, A Vacant Affair) on electric guitars, Nelson Tan (In Each Hand a Cutlass) on bass and my old friend Ray Aziz (too many bands to mention!) on drums. In addition, Eileen Chai also provided gorgeous violins on two songs. To embellish the storytelling, I also managed to add voiceovers from Esther Low, James Khoo and X’Ho to the mix as well. But the biggest credit must go to my partner-in-crime Patrick Chng (That Locked Door studio) who co-produced, recorded, mixed and mastered the album brilliantly. In addition, special thanks must go out to Daniel Sassoon and Leonard Soosay (Snakeweed Studios) for making the drums recording possible. Last but not least, an appreciation to film maker Tzang Merwyn Tong for his assistance with the lettering design seen on the album cover.
So we are here. Present Sense is now available for pre-orders at iTunes with a download of “Vancouver Gurls”. The album itself will be released digitally worldwide by KAMCO Music on 11th September. I will support the release (with The Groovy People) with two shows in September viz. at Artistry Cafe on 18th September (tickets available from Peatix) and at Barbershop by Timbre on 23rd September (free admission).
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People sometimes ask why this website isn’t called Power of Rock when my musical tastes seem to gravitate towards rock rather than pop music. But this betrays a somewhat myopic understanding of what pop music actually is, and falls prey to the common misconception of pop.
Strictly speaking, popular music as a ‘genre’ is utilised to differentiate from other known generic forms of music – for example, classical music, traditional/ethnic music and art/avant garde music.
Traditional/ethnic music (in this case, Chinese)
Art/Avant-garde music (in this case, minimalism)
In this context, it is easy to see that popular music is ‘different’ in that it appeals to the masses and is more universally inclusive, compared to the above ‘genres’. This means that popular music includes country, folk, blues, soul, jazz, rock and pop, also combinations amongst the aforementioned and cross-pollinations with the other generic forms as well.
But of course, understanding the diverse ‘genres’ within the broad popular music category is really important if you are trying to describe a certain type of music. Perhaps less so in today’s environment where music can be heard over the internet on demand but for marketing and promotional purposes, this understanding still plays a crucial role.
Which brings me, inevitably, to my WRITING ON ROCK MUSIC course, which I will be conducting over 4 Saturdays in September and I will going over this issue of popular music genres. The fee is $300 and registration is still open till 4th September. Sign up at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Definitely something I’ve wanted to do for a long long time! This is my dream – to get remunerated for talking about rock music!! It’s going to be a blast.
Although targeted at music writers/bloggers, I believe that much of the content of this course will be relevant for anyone working or aspiring to work in the music industry.
So please write in to kamcomusic AT gmail DOT com to sign up. I will be waiting for you! Thanks in advance.
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Just realised that I haven’t done one of these for some time now.
So where am I? Caught between life’s necessities and the ‘luxuries’ of following your own dreams. And even in the latter case, trying hard to be true to myself.
Over half of the year has gone by and I am putting together a brand new album of songs that conceptualise somewhat the lessons I have learned in the past five years.
I say somewhat because the concept behind Present Sense is not really autobiographical but definitely my own life experiences have inspired the story that will unfold when one listens to the new music.
As always, I keep my expectations as low as possible. Even if the local music scene begins to build higher expectations, I remind myself that my relative advance age will always be a prejudicial factor in the scheme of things. Hard to swallow perhaps, but a hard truth nonetheless. Coupled with utter lack of appreciation for the arts that continues to plague our society, it’s a constant battle against the odds.
I still hear flattering things about my so-called status within the music scene but the reality hardly bears that out. Mostly, what I find is disrespect and even worse, a flat-out cold shouldering. I try not to dwell on these things – these are facts – but that doesn’t lessen the hurt.
For the brave few true friends I am thankful and comfort myself with their support – you know who you are. Present Sense is a tribute to you all.
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My continuing misadventures as a failed musician in art-adverse Singapore where cover bands rule the music landscape.
Against all common sense, I am recording a new album to be released in September. Look, I will be a senior citizen very soon and my name isn’t Dick Lee or Jeremy Monteiro, so who the fuck in this recovering cultural desert would want to listen to my music?
It gets worse when one tries to talk to venues about playing gigs to promote the new album. Most of the venues here exclusively feature cover bands and if you want to ‘use’ their venue to launch your album then expect an exorbitant charge!
To be fair, there are venues that do (on a regular consistent basis) support a Singapore artist playing his own music but you can probably count them on one hand – Artistry Cafe, Hood Bar & Cafe, Timbre outlets, the Esplanade and the Hard Rock Cafe!
For most of these venues, there is no payment involved for playing – simply because there is no grassroots support for music made in Singapore. That unfortunately is still a fact. I can appreciate the venue owners’ dilemma, I really do. It’s already amazing that these platforms even exist!
Thus, I do not perform regularly. For my ‘layman’ friends, this is hard to understand. The usual query is ‘where do you play?’ but the reality is ‘NOWHERE’. Unless it’s an annual string of dates for an EP/album launch, it is impossible for me to get a gig!
Which is why I cringe whenever people describe me as a ‘legend’ – what a fucking joke!?!? More like a ‘failed musician’ is the stark reality. Is this your musical legacy, Singapore? Don’t be mistaken, I am not griping for the sake of it, I accept the way things are and do my best (which isn’t much) to change things.
But what I will continue to do is to make music. So, I will release my new album – Present Sense – in September and will play a couple of gigs in support (with The Groovy People). I really wish I could play my music all year round but that, dear readers, is just not possible, unless something changes.
And that is up to you. Not the Government, not SGMUSO, not The Musicians Guild, but YOU, the music fan. The scene is what you make of it – if all you want are singing contests & cookie cutter cover bands, then good luck to you all….
*thanks to Keith Tan (Obedient Wives Club) for the phrase.
It has been said so often now that it’s almost become a cliché – “the Singapore indie music scene is growing” or even “Singapore’s indie music scene is on the cusp of a new golden age”. But how true is that statement and what do we mean when we say that the scene is ‘growing’?
This weekend (July 10th – 12th) witnessed a slew of Singapore indie music events that seemed to suggest that if nothing else, the number of events being organised within the scene is increasing. But is this a result of funding from SG50 celebrations or a genuine improvement in the manner in which Singaporeans appreciate local music.
Well, let’s take the examples of two very recent album launches viz. DEON’s Oceans and The Steve McQueens’ Seamonster. Both events were sold out registering between 100 – 200 paying attendees, with good sales on CDs and merch as well. Both artists have excellent reputations with track records of performing at overseas festivals. Is this an indicator of success?
Late in June, Baybeats Festival 2015 once more delivered three days of mostly Singapore indie music, spotlighting a bunch of ‘budding’ bands that for some, meant a dream achievement. Is playing at Baybeats an indicator of success, as well?
To put things into context, I came across a poster for Baybeats 2008, which introduced 11 ‘budding’ bands to the festival. However, none of those 11 bands exist anymore, seven years later.
So is that all? Playing at Baybeats and selling out your album launch? If so, then these are mere baby steps still for our perpetually teething indie music scene.
What is the measure of true success for our indie music scene?
I have been reading about the origins of Nirvana and the Seattle music scene in the late 80s and early 90s. Before the Seattle music scene exploded with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains etc, the city had little to shout about in that respect. But of course, once it did, first amongst its own local audiences, the Seattle music scene became world famous, with record labels rushing down to sign anyone in a flannel shirt with greasy hair and Seattle became synonymous with ‘grunge’ (a meaningless label) that branded Seattle as the place to be for at least five years. Though ‘grunge’ eventually died out, many of the first wave of aforementioned Seattle bands managed to make a mark on rock history.
And at the end of the day, shouldn’t that be the ultimate indicator of success for our indie music scene? Music that is appreciated in Singapore first, before being appreciated overseas? Music that is written about in glowing terms by the popular indie music influencers online, invited by popular indie music festivals overseas and drawing international visitors to experience Singapore indie music firsthand?
Without a mindset shift within our own borders, it would not be possible for our indie artists to make a significant impact, regionally and internationally. So the key question, once again, is how can Singapore indie artists build a quality fan base (i.e. one that is willing to spend money on the artist and not merely clicking ‘like’ on social media) that will sustain said artist for a lifetime of music making?
There are many factors but I think the critical one is a partnership between indie artists and venue owners to push out original music content to build a solid fan base for Singapore indie music. In order to do this, venue owners must forgo the narcotic of cover music and go cold turkey with originals! Aspiring indie artists must see the value of writing and playing their own songs – whether live or via online videos. Therefore, the music scene must be dominated by original music content, with cover music being in the minority. Yes I know it’s the usual chicken and egg situation but that’s the radical step that must be taken!
In other words, we must nurture a culture of creativity and artistry in our indie music scene. Without this, our indie music scene will constantly be on the verge of something great but without sustainability or continuity, the artists will lose faith and stamina and fade into the normalcy and obscurity of adulthood and our indie music scene will find itself at square one again!
So here’s my TODAY interview with Jaime Wong. Now, I hope you figured out that that headline came from my editor! But to be fair, I chickened out from coming up with one, so….
Check out the article and don’t forget that Jaime launches her EP on May 15, 7.30pm at Lepark, People’s Park Complex rooftop. Tickets from http://jaimewongep.peatix.com. You can buy the EP on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/album/jaime-wong-ep/id979791050)
KAMCO Music started life as KAMCO Records in 1998 – a label through which I could self-release Popland’s Groovy album. 17 years later, KAMCO Music (physical releases are so passé) embarks on a new adventure with digital distributor Believe Digital with the re-issue of my three solo releases thus far.
Previously released only on Bandcamp, this EP is now available at iTunes, Amazon (etc) and the relevant streaming platforms for the first time. Contains the radio-friendly “I Want What I Can’t Have” and you can buy it for a reasonably low price.
Emo FASCISM (2013)
My first album since 2001, was released on the 20th anniversary of my first LP, Democracy (with Watchmen). Notably distinctive for containing mostly jazz-pop numbers (!) and also having a single rejected for radio play by Mediacorp Radio viz. “Beyond the Ashes”. Now you really need to pick this up!
Originally released under the Watchmen moniker (and also only on Bandcamp), I have decided to reclaim @midnight EP as a solo release. Significant for featuring a youthful incarnation of The Groovy People viz. Esther Low (keyboards), James Lye (guitars), Low Han Quan (drums) and Brian Leery (bass). Mid-priced as well! Enjoy…
Re-issues of Watchmen, The Crowd and Popland to come in the next two weeks.
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Finally! The lyric video for “I Want What I Can’t Have” is online. I want to thank film-maker Michael Lim for putting this together in a very short time.
This video release is the first one under KAMCO Music’s distribution deal with Believe Digital and I want to thank Syaheed and Dawn over at Believe Digital for assistance with this.
Look out for the re-issues of #alpacablues, Emo FASCISM and @midnight on 27th March on all digital distribution platforms.
Thanks also to Hood Bar and Cafe for the wonderful location!
Please share if you like.
From 2012, remembering articles about the Singapore indie music scene from TODAY.
You can find my articles at TODAY online here.
Day Two was spent recovering from my jet lag so I was only able to get out on Day Three. Basically spent the day with my good friend Chris, visiting EMP Museum. It’s really a pop culture buff’s dream to a certain extent. EMP expanded their scifi-fantasy section into separate scifi, horror and fantasy. In truth the latter two were boring whilst the scifi section was better, there wasn’t too much to get excited about.
The music exhibitions were what EMP was all about – with the focus on Hendrix in London and Nirvana. While both were also relatively small, the detail to attention put into the exhibitions was a wonder to behold and worth the price of admission. Viewing Kurt Cobain’s demo cassettes was interesting as well as the live-size props for the In Utero tour.
It was heart-warming to visit a museum that was dedicated to rock music with its due recognition of our beloved rock music as art in its own right. What a statement to make! I was particularly intrigued by a graphic that highlighted the various indie bands that came out of Seattle and Washington state in general. It put the idea of ‘support local’ into perspective. I am certain that the folks watching Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Death Cab for Cutie etc had no idea that their local bands would one day become superstars – but that’s how every band starts, as a local band.
More pics here.
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PERFECT LOVE DRIVES OUT FEAR
Back in the 70s, the Government conducted a smear campaign against rock n roll and labeled it as ‘yellow culture’ meaning it was decadent and unsuitable for nation building blah blah fucking blah. But to be fair, many countries worldwide were unable to accept the hippie generation (including its originator, the USA) – it’s just that it was possible in Singapore to utterly destroy the thriving local music scene in order to stamp out this undesirable phenomenon. Which they duly did.
Regular visitors will be aware of my extremely low tolerance for trolls. My attitude is simple – if you have nothing good to say – SHUT THE FUCK UP! Is that so difficult to achieve? Seriously, sometimes the attention one gets from trolls seems totally incomprehensible – what did I ever do to you? – always seems to be the recurring protest that springs fully formed in head. I mean, the world is in bad enough shape without having these illogical trolls contribute absolute nothing to make things a little better.
Bottom line is clear – I must always be in a position to control what the comments I receive on social media. Which means blocking trolls essentially and avoiding being part of groups that tolerate trolls. Recently, I left a comic book group that seemed innocent enough when it started but of late has reminded me why I stay clear from these groups as a general rule.
Much safer to make my own opinion public via my own website where I can easily control the outcome of unwelcome trolls. Now you know why it’s always good to be king.
Back to normal programming….
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Phil 2: 4, The Message)
This passage of scripture drives and informs my life. It’s a difficult one to follow as it involves self-sacrifice, a quality frowned upon in our world. In April 2007, somewhere in New York City, I resolved that my area of influence was in music and I needed to use this influence to help musicians in Singapore. How exactly, I wasn’t quite sure of at the time but I knew that that had to be my purpose in this life.
Over the course of the last seven years, in the pursuit of this ‘calling’ I have faced tumultuous events in my personal life designed to test my resolve and to lead to new ways and means by which I could invest in and bear fruit from my gifts. It has not been easy, believe me. Often times, my eagerness to help someone else has led to misunderstandings and my fragile low self esteem has taken a lot of battering along the way.
At the end of last year, I rather fancifully imagined that I could venture into a totally new creative area but the last six months have proven how foolish my thinking had been. But through the disappointment, I have learnt to bring the focus back to music and to music people. It was appealing to my ego that new ‘friends’ had turned up to bring me into new pastures where I could prosper but that was my vanity speaking to me and I am thankful to have been put right and properly brought down back to earth.
In the last few weeks, this scope has expanded beyond our shores and has led me to make connections with various foreign bands and the joy I experienced in these encounters has made it clear to me that this was the path all along and all I needed to do was to stick with the program. I will be in Seattle and Vancouver in late September/early October and will take the opportunity to build on and strengthen these new ties as I push myself further into my beloved world of music.
None of these pursuits involve monetary gain or have been conceived to further business interests – I truly believe that that will take care of itself as long as my heart is in the right place. All I want to do is to help as many musicians as I possibly can in whatever shape or form. These are exciting times to be involved in music!
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