MSU Mankato, Minnesota Storytellers: Martin Zellar.

I hadn’t heard of Martin Zellar before he came to school, but I got a brief history lesson from my teachers.  In the 80’s Minnesota rock was starting to gain mainstream attention.  Zellar was the frontman for the Gear Daddies, a band that rose to fame among the likes of Hüsker Dü, and the Replacements.  At the time, Minneapolis was hot.

After three studio albums, a performance on David Letterman, and three years of touring, the Gear Daddies peacefully broke up.  Zellar started playing with a new group, Martin Zellar and the Hardways.  They released their first album in 1994, and have been together ever since.  Zellar has enjoyed a long lasting career, and a loyal Minnesota fan base.  He sat down with my Songwriting II class, listened to our songs, and shared some words of wisdom.

Zellar was very complimentary; he said the songs were fantastic.  There’s a lot of talent in our class, and it was cool to hear that validated by a successful songwriter.  He said that what a lot of my classmates got right, was having a memorable chorus he could sing back.  Zellar’s own music is defined by story telling, and he talked about the importance of being a good listener.  He said that a lot of his songs come from stories others told him.

For the first Minnesota Storytellers, Martin Zellar and the Hardways took the stage at the Earley Center for Performing Arts.  They had two acoustic guitars, a bass (played by Zellar’s son), and a drummer who mostly used brushes. Zellar sang lead, and the drummer occasionally harmonized.  They played their brand of country and rock, old songs and new.  I am only recently familiar with his repertoire, but I was happy to hear “Stupid Boy,” and “Wear Your Crown.”  They did not play that damn zamboni song, which was fine by me.

Every two songs or so, Professor LeGere would come onstage and ask questions.  They talked about breaking from a small town, and the importance of their Minnesota community.  Zellar said that some Minnesota bands were kicking down doors and his band could kind of sneak in behind them.  When the Minnesota rock sound was hot, labels were sending out A&R guys just to find their own Minnesota band.  The community had defined a sound, and everyone wanted a piece of it.

Zellar is definitely a story teller.  He gave quite a bit of backstory between songs, and told us about his time with the Gear Daddies.  My favorite was when LeGere asked if they had any “debaucherous tour stories,” and they talked about playing at Carleton College and throwing a tray of food against the wall, making a mess.  They felt so bad about it they cleaned it up themselves.  “We’re just nice Minnesota boys,” Zellar said.   It was also funny to hear that when their label was called about them performing on Letterman, the head of promotions had never heard of them.  Overall, this was a pretty cool event, and I look forward to the next one.

Planting a Tree

My original plan was to release a singer-songwriter EP every year.  I succeeded in 2015 and 2016, but in 2017 I procrastinated.  I kept giving myself excuses and putting it off.  Other projects took priority and after missing my self imposed deadline, I lost motivation.  I’m just releasing it now in 2019, and although that makes me happy, I wish I had done it earlier.

I was trying to think of a better way to phrase this without using the old cliche, but better late than never.  This phrase applies to many things in my life: quitting a bad job, losing weight, going back to school, and learning piano.  These are all things I could have done a long time ago.  Once I finally took action, that was clear, but just because you didn’t start when you should have is no excuse not to start at all.

Take it from me.  If you sit around thinking about something you wish you had done, and every year is another year you wish you had already done it, do it.  Don’t give into the lie that there was a perfect time to do something and now it’s too late.  The only cure to the regret you feel is to do what you should have been doing all along.  As the Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

I’ll leave you with the long-awaited EP.

Semester Wrap Up – Final EP

Well, this semester is coming to a close.  Although I was only in three classes this year, I’ve grown a lot.  I have an arsenal of new writing techniques, a better knowledge of production, and a higher standard for my own material.  The greatest change in my writing is the increased use of layers, both for instruments and vocals.  I always knew about the importance of instrument layers, but I never applied them as much as I could.  Layering instruments can really fill a track out and bring it to life.  Vocal layering is another great tool I hadn’t been utilizing.  Because of my own struggles performing and recording, I shied away from it.  I’ve found that simply adding a unison vocal or singing up an octave can do wonders and is well worth the effort.

My industry class was a one hour a week lecture.  It focused on current trends in the industry, music news, and other things we should be excited about.  The big take away from class was to pay attention: follow successful people on Twitter, read the news, and keep yourself informed.  Solid advice, and if the class itself wasn’t all that informative on it it’s own, it sure was a nice pick-me-up.  Professor LeGere’s enthusiasm is contagious, and hearing his lectures made you share his optimism.

Here is my final EP submission for Songwriting 1.  Originally, three songs were required, but that was later changed to two.  According to the teacher, this was because some people had submitted “dumpster fires” as their first songs.  I wish I had re-recorded the vocals for “Lights,” but I had a cold and ran out of time.

“Let Go” was recorded at the school’s studio, but “Lights” was recorded at home.  The guitar and bass in “Lights” were recorded directly into my interface and processed using Guitar Rig.  The solo for “Let Go” was recorded using a Stratocaster into a tube amp.