Actor/Musician

Resistance Against Evolution – Oppressing The Digital Revolution

Today I had an experience that has me feeling unsettled. I spoke to a guy putting together a band about possibly playing guitar for him. I liked his music, he seemed to like my playing and singing. Then we got to discussing equipment. He was looking for a specific sound and was not convinced that my digital modeling gear was sufficient. He said this was a “pro-level” gig and that there needed to be real Les Pauls through real Marshall stacks. We chatted a little about it and basically parted ways amicably with the decision that I wasn’t the guy for the job.

However, this exchange continued to bother me and I tried to analyze why. I certainly don’t begrudge him his opinion or knowing what he personally wants in his band. Then I realized that it resonated with something deeper in me. An insecurity. I’ve encountered this attitude before from people. People who don’t take me seriously because, in their ears, they don’t take my equipment seriously. I realized that I was bothered because I felt like I had been dismissed, or looked down upon as less than a professional.

I consider myself a professional musician and I know many who would serve as references for my skills as “pro-quality.” I’ve always had a very well developed ear. I am self taught on all instruments and have always learned by ear. When I’m in bands, I’m always the one (or one of the people) that others turn to when there’s a question on how something is played or some sonic detail. I’ve spent the last 30 years honing my ear and one of my talents that I’ve been hired for from time to time is the ability to copy, replicate or produce something that is “like” something else. However, it’s all subjective. Something that sounds good or “correct” to me, may not to you. However there are opinions, and there are facts. “A digital modeler can never sound as good as the real thing” is an opinion and can not be right or wrong. I felt bummed and irritated that this guy who I don’t even really know might think less of me than I deserve. That’s stupid, but yet I know that’s one my own issues and insecurities common in many areas of my life. I really don’t know how to not care what other people think of me. Obviously I have some weird deep-seated insecurity of being the person that everyone is pointing and laughing at or something. “Yeah, this guy is obviously an amateur. I mean he uses those digital toys.”

I often have various other people who may disagree with a guitar tone I’m using. They think it’s too trebly, or needs more mid-range, while I think it’s fine and just what I wanted and was going for. I’m always open to opinions and collaboration but in the end I feel like I’m the guitar player and that’s my arena to decide. Sometimes I don’t particularly care, so I don’t resist, but while I may offer my opinion on another musician’s parts or sounds, I’m certainly not going to dictate to them how I think they need to set their gear if I respect their own opinions and abilities. Basically we all have opinions, and I don’t want to be made to feel like mine is somehow wrong or inferior when I have dedicated a large part of my life to learning and honing my skills and my ear.

I’ve always loved technology. When I heard about the first “Digital Modeling Amplifier,” the Line 6 AxSys 212, I got one and loved it, even though it wasn’t perfect. Over the years, technology has come a long way and I’ve stayed with the times. I now play a Line 6 James Tyler Variax that can digitally model many different guitars and I use a Line 6 POD HD-500 that digitally models amps, effects, speakers, mics, etc. I personally think that technology has come far enough now that there is no perceptible sonic difference. When I switch my guitar to a “Les Paul” setting, and stomp my footswitch for a “Marshall,” it sounds and feels like a Les Paul into a Marshall to me. I’ve seen blind sound tests when people could distinguish which was real and which was digitally modeled.

Some people have their minds made up that nothing can ever sound and feel like the real thing. That is probably technically true on a microscopic level but I personally disagree as far as a human perceptible level. I believe that so much of what we perceive is colored by what we want or expect to perceive. If you have your mind made up that a movie is going to suck, then you’re probably not going to like it. If you think that a piece of gear is not going to sound as good as another piece of gear, then that’s probably the conclusion you are going to reach. Even if you think you’ve “given it a fair chance” it’s probably affected by your subconscious bias.

This, of course, goes for me as well. Maybe because I want to love the digital revolution, I hear awesome sounds that are just as good as the real thing. I try very hard to be open-minded and listen to feed back. I mean really listen and take it in and consider it and not just get knee-jerk defensive about my own opinions but I’m human and I’m sure I’m still susceptible to subconscious preference. I wonder if there will be a day when people look back and say “They used to use amps powered by vacuum tubes! Can you believe that? How antiquated and steam-punk is that?”

I have chosen my place as a digital warrior and I love that I can get so many (accurate, in my opinion) sounds out of one guitar and one amp/effects simulator. In 2 pieces of gear, I have the equivalent of a truckload of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sounds. And more so, the guitars and amps aren’t based on “average” models, they are based on particularly “exceptional” sounding models so it’s not just like have a Strat and a Marshall, it’s like having an exceptionally awesome sounding Strat and Marshall. They even model all the knobs to respond exactly like the knobs on the original equipment. When you get into the guts and details of Line 6’s digital modeling, it’s actually amazing what technology can do.

I could easily go on for hours about this stuff and how amazing it is and how it’s allowed me to experiment and discover tones and guitar and amps I may never have had a chance to before and how I can, in an instant, go from a Les Paul/Marshall combo to a Gretsch Duo-Jet tuned to Open E into a Park-75 amp with the flick of a switch and they all sound just like the real thing. I could ramble on about opinions, subjectivity, snobbiness, and any one of the other hundred talking points I’ve touched on here in this meandering diatribe.

I definitely have my share of insecurities about so many things, but I suppose I should be happy that at least I don’t doubt myself. I have pride in my own abilities and talents, even if I sometimes think that others may not see or appreciate them. I am fully entrenched in the world of digital modeling music gear and have no desire to change that, as are many top pro players. I guess if someone is going to look down on me for that, then they aren’t someone I was meant to be playing with anyway. It’s still kind of a bummer though.

Bacon-O’s! The Bacon Flavored Cereal!

I was doing a play where we were considering having some fake commercial breaks, so I recorded this jingle that I imagined would appear during Saturday morning cartoons.

Bacon-Os

“Tonight You Belong To Me” From “The Jerk” for Ukulele

I recently bought ukulele to add to my arsenal of instruments. I watched “The Jerk” again recently and the ukulele duet between Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters inspired me. For my first ukulele I decided to take a chance on a very unique instrument hand made by a Chinese maker on Ebay. I call it the “Bat-Uke” and I think you can see why.

As I set out to learn the song, I quickly realized it was going to be very challenging for an instrument that was totally unfamiliar to me. I started researching and watching youtube videos and reading ukulele forums. I very quickly found that there was not a single spot-on, correct version out there to my ears.

You can barely see the fretboard at all in the movie to see what Steve’s hands are doing but through my research I found out that it didn’t really matter, as even though Steve Martin is an incredible banjo player, he was miming the ukulele which was actually played by a jazz ukulele player named Lyle Ritz. I started painstakingly listening to every chord over and over for hours, picking out the individual notes in the chords.

EDIT 2/24/2018:
I have now found this video which nails it dead on. End of story! Mysteries unlocked so I’ve deleted the rest of my post and my “best guess” transcription.

Here’s a PDF of the chords: Tonight You Belong To Me

Why Working For “Free” Isn’t Always Working For “Free”

Since I’ve had this discussion so many time with so many people, I thought it was about time I just wrote an entry here that I can refer back to in the future. As a freelance artist, I do a lot of work for “free”. You see it all the time: people soliciting talent but with no budget and promising experience, exposure, a good time, etc. I’ve seen more and more artist friends protesting against this and saying that we shouldn’t work for free and that we must value our own talents or no one will.

Now, let me first say that I absolutely do not disagree with these sentiments and I’m not here to argue against them. I just don’t think that it’s nearly so simple or black and white. As an actor, I’d say %95 of what I do, I do for “free”. Now I use that work in quotes because it’s misleading. I mean that I do not receive monetary compensation for it. I do however receive many benefits that I think are worth something and I think this can apply to many freelancers whether you’re an artist, web designer, photographer, writer, etc. I have been an actor/musician for most of my life and a professional (in some sense of the word) for 25+ years. For the last 6 years it has been a large part and sometimes a majority of my income. What do I get from “working for free”?

A) It’s like going to the gym. I get to practice my craft, keep my skills honed and my “acting muscles” in shape. I did over 40 projects in a 3 month period (only 1 of which ended up being not worth my time) and I could definitely feel the benefit. I remember specifically going in for a feature film audition and feeling like I was able to tap into some places much more easily because of some of the “free” projects I had recently done that allowed me to explore some places where I had less experience. I don’t see it as “working for free” as much as I see it as “training for free”. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for classes, I’m actually acting in real world projects. Now I’m not saying it’s necessarily a substitute for classes (especially for newer actors), but it’s still a form of free training. More of a companion to formal training.

2: I love what I do and I would always rather be working than not. The people I know who have decided that they weren’t working for less than X amount, tend to work a lot less than me. Now maybe they make the same amount of money as I do for less work. I don’t know but I want to work and be involved in as many projects as I can because it’s almost like the lottery, the more you play the more chances you have to win.

Γ- This business is definitely far more about opportunities and the people you know than strictly talent (which is sad, but true, I believe). I have made so many great friends and fostered professional relationships through these projects that never would have happened if I refused to work on free projects and you never know where those roads could lead. Some have indeed led to actual paid work that I would have never had access to otherwise. It has led to many people actually writing parts specifically for me. It has led to me being cast without even auditioning. I’ve been in some awesome films that went on to win awards at film festivals and such. All because of my working for “free”.

π} It can come back to you in all kinds of ways. Several years ago, my friend, Lars, and I set out to film some scene samples from a feature to try and get some funding. We had to actually produce a detailed budget to submit for grants and such. We filmed on the RED ONE, had a full crew and grip package, etc. By the budget, what we produced should have cost $15,000. It actually cost around $2000 because of all the talented, wonderful people we had met while working for “free” who believed in us, liked working with us and knew of our talents. These people wanted to be part of our project and donate their time and equipment largely because of all the “free” work we had done together. I know that if I finally get into a position to throw some money around, the first people I’m going to involve are those that I’ve worked with and love working with and who have lent me their talents in the past. Even at the point I am at now, I am always recommending my friends and throwing opportunities their way whenever I can.

As I said, I do think we need to value our talents, and I would certainly like to see more respect for actors. I’ve been on so many projects where the crew is being paid but the actors are not because so many people want to be actors and so many people think that the on camera jobs are the fun and glamorous jobs, but that’s another issue altogether.

There is no one correct path and you have to do what is right for you, but don’t be deceived. “Free” work can very much be worth it. Yes, I’d love to be making a living doing what I love but the important part, to me at least, is the “doing what I love” part. I believe the rest will come. And so far, I’ve been mostly right.

Now, anybody got any good jobs for me? 😉

Addendum 9/30/13:
I just started a pretty dreamy job making more money than I ever have, doing very cool creative things for a video game and feature film project with extremely flexible hours to pursue acting and auditions and such, and this job came about directly because of all the free work I’ve done with these folks.

sk4

Where To Look For Me in Spy Kids 4

Spy Kids 4 opens this weekend and there are several places you may see me!

You will almost certainly see me towards the end grabbing Jeremy Piven by his right arm and dragging him off.
You will very likely see me in a laboratory trying to control a guy in an anti-gravity suit as spy kids get chased around me.
You may see me as an OSS Agent “frozen” in a hallway, pushing a cart and talking to a fellow female agent.
You will possibly see me selling ice cream way in the background of a park but I will be far away, tiny and probably out of focus.
And you will almost certainly see me but never know it’s me as one of two guys in silver Hazmat suits around a crater (probably with a fogged up visor).

sk4

Oh, Yeah, Some Videos

So anyone on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ has seen these posted already. I have, however, completely neglected to post them here on my own website. Apparently I have hardly posted any of them here, your best bet is just going to my youtube channel and checking them all out there including my uploads and my favorites (videos I was in uploaded by other people). A few recent highlights:

Insomnia (The Birth of a New Song)

The other day I walked to Torchy’s Tacos for some lunch. On the way home, a song just suddenly came to me out of nowhere. I just started singing the first line and almost immediately had a pretty full idea of where the song was going. It’s like it was just suddenly channeling through me, pouring out of me. I knew that it had at least a dash of inspiration from a Sheryl Crow song, and Elvis Costello song, Muse’s version of “Feelin’ Good” and a Butch Walker song that had come on my iPhone “shuffle” 2 or 3 times in the last week called “Pretty Melody”. While it was nothing like the song rapidly birthing itself from my mind, I remember noting the quality of the vocals and that I really liked how they sounded raspy and kind of “tired” like he’d just woken up. I think another ingredient was that I’d been playing “L.A. Noire” on the Xbox 360, an atmospheric detective story set in the 1940’s. A few scenes took place in a jazzy club complete with a sultry German songstress.

Whatever the ingredients, I was being blessed with an aggressive muse that would not be ignored. About 2 hours later I had completed writing the music and lyrics. I immediately started recording. Keyboards first, then drums, then bass, and lastly guitar. Roughly 10 hours after the first notes and words had come to me from beyond, I had finished recording all the music. The next day, I took care of the vocals. A day or two of intense listening and fine tuning and it was complete. And I loved it. It was absolutely everything I wanted it to be. It said everything I needed it to say. Had exactly the atmosphere, feeling, passion and emotions that I wanted infused into it.

So throw on your best gown or suit, pull the brim of your hat down low, come on into the club and picture a sweaty little trio, traditional in some ways, ahead of their time in others, performing a song called Insomnia.

Waiting For Ms. Elusive (An Old New Song)

Just realized that in this age of Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been neglecting my own site and never even wrote about releasing “Waiting For Ms. Elusive”.

This song began at a gig with The Rock-A-Fellas at the Lakeside Icehouse. We were all ready to play “Hotel California” by The Eagles, but Donnie Wilson was having technical issues. So I just started improvising. Singing things like “Waiting for Mr. Wilson, to figure out what’s going wrong, waiting for Mr. Wilson, so we can all play our next song”, etc. Afterward, several people commented that they really liked it and I myself had thought it was a great basis for a real song.

On the 2 hour drive home that night I wrote the first verse in the car. I knew that I didn’t want to keep it about “Mr. Wilson” for several reasons, one being King’s X already has a song called “Mr. Wilson”. So I toyed with a few different variations, “Lucy Lusive”, “Lucy Elusive” but in the end decided “Ms. Elusive” fit the best. It wasn’t until some months later when inspiration found me again and I finished writing and recording it. I kept faithful to its origin by using my 12-string acoustic sound in my Variax, capoed on the 7th fret, just like Hotel California.

And so here is Waiting For Ms. Elusive

Under Construction

I always like to give anyone interested a glimpse behind the scenes into the whole process of creating a song. Like looking at something under construction and wondering what it will be like when it’s completed. So here’s the lyrics and the acoustic guitars and bass tracks that I’ve recorded so far for “Waiting For Ms. Elusive”.

http://www.heathallyn.com/audio/Elusive.mp3

Waiting for Ms. Elusive on the corner of past and time
Waiting for Ms. Elusive to bring me back into my prime
Waiting for Ms. Elusive, I know she comes here for the view
Waiting for Ms. Elusive so I can be elusive too

Rapt within her conversation, overflowing with elation
Then she’s gone, you’re on your own
How you miss the effervescence that you feel when in her presence
Now you know the meaning of alone

Waiting for Ms. Elusive, her voice is music to my ears
Waiting for Ms. Elusive to take me far away from here
Waiting for Ms. Elusive to say the words she can not say
Waiting for Ms. Elusive to be effusive any way

In her eyes you can see another world
But you know there’s no way to travel there
Once you’ve seen it you’ll never be the same
The one you live in just can’t compare

Waiting for Ms. Elusive, though I know that she can’t come
Waiting for Ms. Elusive, to warm my heart, so cold and numb
Waiting for Ms. Elusive, she has to leave you far behind
Waiting for Ms. Elusive, forever living in your mind

Bending laws of time and space, the world stops when I see her face
Her name sits precariously on your lips
How you wish that you could sleep, to dream the secrets that you keep
She’s with you on every imaginary trip

“Work”

Acting. Music. It’s what quenches the fire within me and yet stokes it at the same time. It’s what fills me up, fulfills me, makes me happy. It’s when I feel the most alive and the most “in my element.” It is why I am here. It’s what satiates the hunger. It’s when I shine most brightly as my true self (which is kind of ironic to say about acting). I guess I shouldn’t really call it “work”. It’s my passion. I guess “work” would be anything else I do for money.