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The Dreamer & The Dream Album Release Show!!!

The date is almost here! I am so excited to announce the release of my new album, The Dreamer & The Dream. The full album is now available on iTunes and all music retailers on April 14th, and you can snag a copy here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-dreamer-the-dream/1318467580

For the release show on April 27th at Amplyfi in Hollywood, I will be joined by my wonderful band, with Jesse Silgero on bass, John Uhrig on electric guitar and Trevor Anderies on drums (and me on guitar, piano, and vocals). I am also super excited to have friends and fantastic singer-songwriters Steph Meyers, Rachel Toups, and Coyote Run open the night.

Grab your tickets here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/april-27th-kela-steph-rachel-tickets-44124957937. 

If you can’t wait for the show check out this playlist I’ve been putting together of live videos and lyric videos from songs on the record:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLh5ft2uC8LhixUQSDy4Hmb55iShlYP8Gr

I have a LONG list of people to thank who contributed to this album, which was a long time in the making and covered many geographies: Barra Brown, Ayal Alves, Patrick McCulley, Victor Nash (Portland, Oregon); Fung Chern Wei, Ken Thomson, Ben Brock, Carmen Rothwell, Zubin Hensler, Rocky Gallo, Max Johnson, Don DeNicola, Rick Bates, Diane Moser, David Roushe, Alex DeTurk (New York). And my family and every single friend and teacher and astrologer and random person at the airport who said they liked any part of this record and encouraged me to keep making it, even though “albums” are now so old-fashioned. This album is a chronicle of the last chunk of my life/lives, and it feels right to group these songs together and present them as a group. Here’s to making stuff!

I hope to see you at the show! xo

Piano Nerd-Out Time: The Journey of Refurbishing & Regulating a Vintage Piano

In my life I have loved many a piano. But none so much as the vintage Baldwin grand I met and became betrothed to about six years ago. And like shorter term relationships that “prepare” you for a more significant investment, there were many educational pianos along the way before I found her.

There were the pianos I grew up playing; a Baldwin spinet with a squeaky, orange velvet-covered bench, and later, a Krakauer baby grand that my mom inherited after my grandfather passed away. It was the piano my mom and her sister grew up playing, and after being shipped across the country, the movers had to haul the piano–legs removed, kidney-shaped body wrapped in quilted blankets–all the way up the sharp incline of our driveway, an ordeal that took an entire afternoon. Once it was inside I couldn’t stop playing it.

The roommate who came with me to each new apartment, along with my cat.
The roommate who came with me to each new apartment, along with my cat.

Then there was my first piano of my very own, an old grand upright with ornately carved legs, rose vines hand-painted on the interior soundboard, and enough chips in its surface you could see decades of past paint colors. (Honeydew green was the most interesting shade that peeked out; I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to have a melon green piano in the living room with me).

After that, I had a Wurlitzer spinet around for a while, with a sound as loud and metallic as a brass band. (I sold that one to a piano student). Then, I replaced it with an electric piano with settings for historical tunings (interesting and useful for a time because I’m drawn to microtonality, but that board, too, was ultimately also sold to yet another student). Thus I was back to my upright, which was showing its years with each move into every humidity-variable room or basement apartment I asked it to survive in.

In the backdrop of all these temporary fixes, I had other fleeting loves. On the second floor of the piano store where I used to teach lessons, I would take advantage of breaks between students to get away from the studio keyboard and practice on the three rooms of used for sale pianos. It was vintage pianos wall to wall, row after row, like aging maidens waiting to be asked to dance. There were the many Steinway uprights, which almost always had a red SOLD tag on them, and notes about the final work to be completed before they were to be shipped to their new owner. And the regal, crystalline tone of the Chickering grands, or the perfectly even action and balanced sound of the Yamahas.

My studio where I taught piano lessons and practiced and composed, with the Chickering console.
My studio where I taught piano lessons and practiced and composed, with the Chickering console.

These were all out of my price range, so for my home studio piano, I found a black Chickering console with unusually high pedals, which I always had to wear heels to play; it made me feel like Tori Amos. But like my previous spinets and consoles, I needed something better for regular practice and composing.

For a few years I regularly visited every piano shop that I knew of with a good used piano selection. I routinely scoured Craigslist: “Pianos>Used>Any.” And then finally, after a long, desperate, demoralizing search, after only ever seeming to be feel an attraction to pianos that were way to expensive for me, finally, I found her:

A 1912 Baldwin 7′ grand piano. An oldie but goodie. The first few decades of the 20th century was the best era for the Baldwin piano company, with a sound like nothing else I had played; a symphony in a case. The first day I found her, in a shop called the Piano Technology School for the Blind, in Vancouver, Washington, I just sat there, smitten.

Sure, she had some prominent scratches and nicks on her case, including many tiny, weird etchings into the wood above the keys. I imagined a Liberace type with fistfuls of ruby- and emerald-encrusted gold rings, scratching away at the wood on the key cover over the years. But for me, the point wasn’t to have a perfectly smooth, glossy case; it’ was the sound.

I was so mesmerized by the sound, in fact, that I didn’t pause long enough notice the Baldwin’s considerable quirks. She had suffered a hard couple of decades in her century of longevity: partial refurbishings, objects being dropped or slammed on the keys, parts warping, and the general malaise of never being in any one technicians’ care for long enough to get a full refurbishing. But I was swept away by her sound. I sat there on the bench, in a Glenn Gould hunch, face close to the keys, playing one at a time, mesmerized by the gradually, softly decaying overtones.

For a while I was content to get lost in the Baldwin’s endless chambers of resonance and overtones. I wrote all the songs on my first record on her, including “Theory of Survival,” for which I used prepared piano techniques to create sonic layers:

But the Baldwin’s actual playability was another matter. For a while, I couldn’t practice for more than twenty minutes without my arms getting sore. I was also worried about the impact on my technique because the piano had such limited aftertouch and heavy key weight.

Even finding a piano technician who was willing to work on this old gal was a process; in fact, one practically hang up on me when I told her I had a partially-refurbished grand piano on my hands.

“I don’t touch a grand piano that’s had unknown hands working on it,” she said flatly.

Piano action. Grand pianos have between 15,000 and 20,000 moving parts.
Piano action. Grand pianos have between 15,000 and 20,000 moving parts.

Finally, I found master piano technician John Rhodes. He was passionate about pianists having good instruments to play, and keeping the tradition of quality, acoustic pianos alive–he felt so strongly, in fact, that he was willing to donate his time to come by and do an assessment to figure out exactly what was wrong.

He came over to my house and we ate cupcakes and talked about cats and pianos and pianists all afternoon. John said he would take on the project–pro bono, all I would have to pay for was parts–but it would mean the piano would need to be in his shop for a while, and he wouldn’t be able to promise a completion date.

During a nearly year-long field trip away from home, the Baldwin’s action was lovingly, meticulously reworked. John kept extensive records on each stage of the entire process.

Upon returning home the Baldwin was definitely in a much-improved state, but even with all that work, there remained the final leg of the restoration: regulation. I had to wait yet again until it was in the budget, and in the stars, to have it done. Then, on a soggy Portland night in October 2013, after a Piano. Push. Play. event, under the eaves of the smoky outdoor patio at Roadside Attraction on SE 12th St., I met piano technician Alvin Alghrim. After hearing about my piano Alvin said he had to come “meet” it, and after playing it once, he, like most people, fell in love with it too and proclaimed it one of his favorite pianos. He said he wanted to work on it.

Le grande dame of my living room.
Le grande dame of my living room.

Before launching into the project, Alvin did intensive research over the next few months going over John’s extensive notes, absorbing John’s process up to that point, and factoring in how that would influence his approach to the regulation. Once Alvin decided he had everything he needed to figure out how to approach the regulation, and he whipped it together in two afternoons. The result:

I’M IN PIANO HEAVEN. I didn’t realize that one of the bonuses of a regulation job is that it actually improves the sound, too. (As if the old girl’s sound could get any better).

xoxoxoxo
xoxoxoxo

At times I am a little bewildered to have such a special instrument, just sitting there waiting to be played, in my daily life. Lest I forget how lucky I am after this long journey, I am reminded by each pianist who comes over and gets to share in this special little slice of acoustical heaven, as they sit down and play and gaze off into dreamland.

I remember an opera singer friend once told me that every singer has to go through some type of profound illness that prevents them from singing for a while; it’s part of the spiritual journey of opening up your voice. Maybe instrumentalists go through a similar thing, that manifests in our instruments?

At any rate, the journey of getting to know and rework an old instrument yields just as much as the attainment of the improved working instrument itself, as through that process we develop an appreciation for sound, how it works, and come to better understand how we respond to it. The oldie-but-goodie instruments might be a bit work, but they are most definitely worth the trouble.

 

Searching & Sewing // Battling Depression with Music

 “We live in pieces for a while, and then, through our feminine powers of searching and sewing, we are recollected                                                             and find our way to wholeness.”

                                                                                                                      -David Richo

 

My second album, the 7 song EP “Searching & Sewing,” was written during 2012 and released in October of 2013. The title track is an ode to the depression I was dealing with during that time. Years before, I had healed from an earlier phase of depression partly by learning that the nature of depression is that it becomes embedded into our nervous system and our identity. Singing to depression as a separate entity helped remind me that it was separate from me, and it was not the sum total of me as a person. Depression was not a permanent life sentence.

 

 

There is always one song on each record that is the hardest to capture. “Searching & Sewing” took the longest to write, and it was trickiest to record in the studio. The song was about trust and persistence while wading through the unknown, and in the songwriting itself, I also wandered into a new form I hadn’t used before. Once Will, Vic and I nailed the drums and piano parts, and I knew it would come together, this became my favorite song on the record. It builds from a somber piano ballad to driving the demons out using the piano as a percussion instrument. As I learned as a teenager when I played the Rachmaninoff preludes in C# minor and G minor, crashing around on a piano is one of the best ways to let off steam and, in this case, to give depression a good ass-kicking.

Music has always been a path to healing for me. I am so honored to have you be a part of this journey and to share this music with you. To get a free download of the tune please click here to join the mailing list, click one of the disc images above, or head over to iTunes or Spotify.

When I Opened For MADELEINE PEYROUX at the Aladdin Theater

It was definitely one of the highlights of my year,

The set list I scribbled on my arm before the show so I'd remember my set!
The set list I scribbled on my arm before the show so I’d remember my set!

or actually my performing life thus far, when I got to open for international singer Madeleine Peyroux at Portland’s Aladdin Theater. I found out about the show rather last minute (like, the day before).

I was having an altogether uneventful afternoon. Incidentally, I actually happened to be feeling a bit glum about how little time I had been finding for music in my life lately. I had just seen an amazing Y La Bamba show earlier that week, where Luz Elena’s performance was especially powerful. (A week later I found out that was actually their last show for a hiatus of a few years, and I’m so glad they’re back now!) Anyway, the show left me feeling inspired by music in general, but bummed about being rather musically inactive at that moment. It was a busy summer where I was commuting almost an hour to day job work and back each day, and physically and mentally exhausted. Though I found moments here and there to write songs and practice, it was tough to stay in the routine.

It was also suffocatingly humid that week, and I was sick with an annoying summer cold (the kind that is mild enough where you don’t need to stay in bed, but you feel consistently crappy no matter what you do). Everything–the weather, my life–felt like it was moving slow as molasses.

As I sat there in my car, getting ready to embark on a series of rathe tedious to-do’s that included car maintenance followed by pulling some gnarly weeds that were going to seed and threatening to take over the yard, my sickness and crankiness and the general malaise of feeling misaligned with my musical energy and the heat all got to me: I broke out in tears and just sat there in the stuffy car, crying and sniffling.

Then suddenly a text appeared. It was from Emily Overstreet of Great Wilderness and the Aladdin Theater:

“Can you open for Madeleine Peyroux tomorrow night?”

I re-swiped my tear-smudged phone, thinking I had misread the text. And then another text came through:

“($$).”

Umm….YES!

“I don’t know for sure yet, just need to see if we can find someone. Will let you know soon,” Emily wrote back. And then, “I feel that it will happen.” I sat there for the next few minutes, wiping my tears away, feeling gratitude, even though I didn’t know for sure if I had it. Just the possibility of having it was enough to turn my day around. A few seconds later the text confirmation came through. Screw pulling weeds and fixing the car!

I went home and figured out what I needed to do. First I called my drummer to see if he could join me, and he said honestly didn’t feel we were ready; we hadn’t been playing really at all lately, of course. But then I talked to the stage manager, who said a drummer wouldn’t be possible with the stage plot anyway:

“Her crew was very clear it needs to be a solo performer.”

So it was play alone, marginally prepared, or don’t play at all.

“Will that work for you?” he asked. I didn’t hesitate.

“YES!” What else do you say? You say yes and do it! (Too, pulling a show together solo without much rehearsal time is much easier than with a band).

I spent the rest of the day practicing; one of my long-neglected guitar strings broke (of COURSE), so I had to walk to the store to get strings. Luckily, my boss gave me half the day off–in fact, a big music fan, she told me she and another work friend would actually be there for the show that night because they already happened to have tickets.

I got to the theatre for sound check and saw why the crew wanted a solo performer; the stage was crammed with a grand piano, a drumkit, an upright bass, Madeleine’s vocal mic and guitar, and an elevated stage rise for five members of the Oregon Symphony who would be joining her.

Madeleine Peyroux.
Madeleine Peyroux.

Backstage, as the house was filling up, I felt weirdly calm but energized, that wakeful, alert type of nervous. That’s how you want to feel before a performance; not overwhelmed with nerves, but not like you’re chilling out on a Netflix binge, either. The set went well and I was told I did a great job and had a good stage presence. Who says you need to be prepared?

I mean sure, the Universe doesn’t always answer our wishes quite so promptly:

“I’m bummed because I haven’t played music enough lately.”

“Well, here’s an amazing gig out of the blue!”

But it is definitely magical when it happens.