Category: Actor/Musician

06
Feb
2020
1:57

My Rebellious Streak

I’ve posted before about this strange rebellious streak I have in me that I don’t really understand and sometimes find annoying. I found a perfect example tonight.

Learning some bass parts, I was thinking about how I really prefer playing bass with a pick. Now there are certain songs or reasons that I sometimes prefer using my fingers but in general, I like the feel and sound of a pick better and feel like everything is much easier for me. Now, there are some schools of thought (that I do not agree with) that think using a pick is “inferior” to using fingers. I can play great with my fingers too, but vastly prefer a pick. With a pick, everything is just so much more effortless for me, while using my fingers makes me have to “fight” a little bit more.

And yet, I play 90%+ using my fingers. I think partially for fear of not being taken seriously by bass snobs if I don’t but also because it’s harder and less intuitive for me and so a part of me thinks “Well then you should develop that muscle and strengthen it instead of just doing what’s easier and more effortless for you.” I researched different right hand techniques and even with that, instead of using the right hand technique that comes most naturally, I find myself trying to train myself to use other ones that I’ve never used before.

I am ambivalent about this streak in me. On the one hand, it’s great to always push yourself and try to strengthen weaknesses, but on the other, it’s kind of silly to throw needless roadblocks and obstacles in your own path for no good reason other than to “up the difficulty” or to please opinionated snobs. My mind is a fascinating place.

12
Jan
2020
3:22

Life’s Strange And Beautiful Road

In 1999, I lived in Dallas for a year. My roommate Esteban and I went to see the Arcangels at a club in Fort Worth. The opening band was a band called Cadillac Voodoo Choir and we were both blown away by them. We were also both particularly blown away by the keyboard player, a guy named Danny Smith. He was a great musician, singer and just had a great stage presence. I got their CD. Later on, just for fun, I learned all the guitar parts on their CD, and thought, “Hey if they ever need a guitarist, I know it all now!.
Fast forward several years (I can’t remember the exact time). I have no recollection of exactly how this meeting came to be, but I was living back in College Station again (my home town), and I drove to Austin to meet the drummer of Cadillac Voodoo Choir (which I think may have been defunct at this point) to talk about a new project he was getting together. We met at Star Seeds, had a conversation and I gave him a demo CD with some of my originals. Nothing ever came of it.
Then tonight, I had a gig with Scottish Thunder. Through a series of random coincidences and chains of events, Danny Smith ended up sitting in with us tonight on keys, guitar and vocals. Super talented, and more than that just a phenomenally nice guy. The more we talked the more we seemed to have in common and I felt that “kindred spirit” vibe. The “brother from another mother” thing.
And as coincidence icing on the coincidence cake, I happened to mentioned one of my all time favorite artists and influences, Butch Walker, and while most people have no idea who he is, it turned out that Danny is friends with him. Now in my world this is kind of like if someone was like “Paul McCartney? Oh yeah, we’re buds!”
Anyway it was a phenomenally fun gig with 4 other super talented friends and I felt like we were pretty solid, put on a good show and at the very least had a blast doing it with good people. Life is strange and beautiful.

04
Dec
2019
1:37

“Pride And Joy” Bass Tablature

I love that you can find many original isolated tracks on youtube which are great for really hearing details when learning songs. I found the isolated bass track to “Pride and Joy” by SRV so I could really work on the nuances. If anyone else would like to benefit from my painstaking work, here’s a PDF of the tablature. This should be almost note perfect. The only exceptions are that there are times when he is sort of muting the upbeats and such, as opposed to playing a really audible open string on the upbeat (which is a lot of the song) but all the important and audible notes should be there.

25
Jul
2019
12:17

Do The Thing

For any given thing you may want to do, your brain will likely come up with a million reasons not to do that thing.

For example, I’ve had just over 30 original and cover songs recorded for quite some time now, starting as far back as 2000. Over the years my skills as a musician, engineer and producer have grown, as have the tools available to me. Consequently, over the years I have occasionally, tweaked, remixed or otherwise “improved” some of my previous recordings. This, obviously can get dangerous and you may end up like George Lucas, constantly “improving” and tweaking your old work. The thing is, as Admiral Ackbar would say, “IT’S A TRAP!” Perfection will remain ever elusive, just ducking around that next corner. It’s so easy to fall into a purgatory of never being “finished.” There is a saying (attributed to various people throughout history) that art is never finished, only abandoned.

In all these years, I had never taken the steps to get my music on the most popular streaming services and stores such as Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, etc., for various reasons. Some of those reasons related to what I’ve said above were that I needed to really, finally, finalize the mix and make sure I had exported them in the highest quality possible, as in my earlier years before I knew what I was doing as well, I had not done either of those things as best they could be done. So my music was only available on my Reverb Nation page where I could easily replace the file with a new one if I made changes and wanted to do so.

This week, I finally made the jump and using Distrokid, I uploaded all my originals and covers. Theoretically I could still make changes if I wanted to, it would just involve pulling my old song from all stores and then re-releasing a new one. Now there was a new angle: I had to add “album art” to each release and also decide if I was releasing a batch as an “album” or just singles. I’ve never recorded an “album” per se, every song was just recorded as it came to me. I joking have all my songs tagged as being part of the album “Best Of” because that amused me to have my debut (and only) album be “Best Of.” That’s right! No filler here! Every song I put out is my best! It’s also an ever growing album since every new original gets tagged that way as well. All my covers are part of my also, ever ongoing “Duck And Cover” album. So I decided I’d release every song as a single and just have the “album art” be either my “Best Of” or “Duck And Cover” art as appropriate. However, apparently stores don’t allow multiple singles to use the same art, so I quickly mocked up art for each “single” which was just the album art with the title of each single on it. In addition, I started worrying about all the old worries again “Is the mix good enough? Is the mp3 maximum quality?”

Sometimes it’s hard to know when searching for perfection is holding you back or whether you are allowing yourself to be lazy or mediocre and justifying it by saying that striving for perfection is a game you can’t win. In the end, I think it’s better for my imperfect music to be out in the world as widely as possible, than forever in purgatory waiting for me to “finish” it.

06
May
2019
14:16

Farewell And Fair Sailing, Carnival Liberty

1 month of rehearsals in Florida.
52 cruises over 26 weeks.
107 band shows.
5 shows as the only vocalist (co-singer was out sick).
1 show as solo vocalist and guitar player (guitar parts learned in the hours leading up to the show), while the normal guitar player covered the bass parts on his guitar, pitch shifted down an octave because both the bass player and female vocalist were out sick).
1 show as bass player and co-vocalist (bass parts learned in the hours leading up to the show).
2 shows missed due to being sick (I was hoping for none).
A handful of shows with a very sub-par voice due to illnesses.
100 America Rocks Shows (Theater production) .
Approximately 31000 nautical miles traveled.
Approximately 177,000 total guests (No way to know how many actually saw us perform, of course).
We leave as the #1 band in the Entire Carnival fleet of 26 ships.

Personal Accolades (braggy, I know):
Volunteered as the Entertainment Department Safety Representative.
Chosen as “Star of the Month” (Entertainment Department only).
Nominated for “Team Member of the Month” (This one is shipwide).
Multiple trainings such as “Crowd Management and Control” and how to pilot and command a survival craft as well as it’s layout and vital information and such.

I got to turn my brain off for seven months and make a good paycheck doing what I love 6 nights a week. No hustling or wondering about my next job or how much money I would make next month. I got to sing and play great tunes with an amazing band for enthusiastic, appreciative, and hyperbolically complimentary crowds. I performed with an amazing cast and crew in a great theater. I worked alongside an international crew of amazing people all over the ship.

For the first time in my life I performed as (mostly) just a singer and front man, something I had been a little worried about as it’s not normally what I do and I feel a little naked without an instrument, but I settled into it fairly painlessly and rose to the occasion (according to my own self-assessment as well as my evaluations by management). I educated myself on how to treat myself as a “vocal athlete” and trained to do my best at meeting the incredible demands of singing 6 nights a week. I honed my instrument to be the best and sharpest it has probably ever been (when not hobbled by cough, colds, phlegm, etc., but more on that in a moment).

I had my ego and confidence boosted and reinforced and can confidently say that I am good at what I do. I had my ego and confidence bruised and humbled by the fact that I have limits and can’t always do anything just because I put my mind to it or because I want to. I learned how use my voice in new ways. How to best use it when it’s not fully functional. Different techniques and approaches. How to feel out where it was on any particular day and gauge how well it was operating so I could adjust accordingly. I developed alternate strategies and plans for when it was not operating at peak efficiency. I learned how much I could really “go for it” in a given night while still being able to do it again the next night and when to pull it back and take it easy to preserve it.

I learned the huge variety of ways my voice can be adversely affected by cold, cough, illness, phlegm, etc. You open your mouth and only have maybe 40% of your normal voice. While you are normally a belter, that doesn’t work tonight so you have to sing in a completely different way to just eke out as much sound as you can. Sometimes your high range is just gone so you have to do a lot more falsetto than normal (strangely, through all of it, my falsetto was always there). Some nights you just have no stamina, vocally. You start out feeling like your voice has finally recovered, but then as the night goes on, it deteriorates. Some nights your mouth and throat just seem determined to be a barren desert no matter how much water, tea, lozenges,and throat spray (multiple types) you use, and again, your voice quickly deteriorates. One night, the only way I could get a decent performance was to constantly keep Grether’s Pastilles in my mouth while singing, and all night long I was super paranoid and careful about making sure I didn’t suck it down my windpipe. There were just so many different ways in which my voice could be hobbled by illness and each had to be dealt with in its own way. Some nights my voice was just unpredictable and erratic. With singing six nights a week, I could really tell the difference after our one night off. The next night everything would be so much more effortless. So much so that I would sometimes overshoot or overpower a note. I got to know my voice more completely than ever.

I’ve been playing music for 36 years and singing for around 32 years. Vocally, I’ve always been kind of wild, chaotic, untrained and quite frankly, lucky that my voice has performed so well all these years under those conditions. I come out of this journey with so much valuable experience, knowledge and wisdom. I come out of this a better singer, performer, and just overall a better person. It didn’t solve any life problems or banish any ghosts or demons (you can’t run away from those, no matter how hard you try or how far you run), but I think it gave me (mostly) what I was looking for from it and more.

I will miss every single person who I have crossed paths with in this adventure and I emerge from this a richer person than I entered it. Time for new adventures, of which I already have many waiting when I get home.

To quote Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings trilogy of books (a quote I’ve used before and will again as I find it so powerful in its simplicity and context), “Well, I’m back.”

Or, you know, I will be after a week at Disney World and Universal Studios.

24
Oct
2017
2:35

Processing The Surreal Physiological And Psychological Experience Of Winning An Award

I want to write about this because I want to process it and get it out of my brain and yet I’m also hesitant as I don’t want to come off as over-important or anything of the like. But maybe some of you will find this interesting or familiar. At the very least, it will be mildly amusing, I hope.

Tonight I had the great honor of winning the 2016-2017 B. Iden Payne award for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy for my performance of Magnifico in La Fenice’s Death race Inferno. From the moment I found out I was nominated to…well even still now, I find the whole experience surreal and interesting. Whenever I’m nominated for something like this, I’m always excited and honored but I try very hard not to get to hopeful. You’re up against talented people and odds are that it will not be your name that gets called. So you try to be cool. Frosty. Zen. But there’s always that part of your mind that goes, “Ah, but wouldn’t that be cool…but I mean probably not. Forget about it. It’s totally an honor just to be nominated. But wouldn’t that be cool…no, no, stop it.”

In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, your brain occasionally wanders to “So what would I say if I won? Don’t be an ass. Don’t be so presumptuous as to construct a speech or something. But I mean, you should be at least mildly prepared, just in case, right? An actor should always be prepared! Now I feel kind of douchey. Nothing wrong with getting a general idea!”

Now I also had the honor of being nominated last year for playing Orin Scrivello D.D.S. in Little Shop Of Horrors, which I didn’t win. I mean, there’s been plenty of other awards I didn’t win, but I say that to say that I was specifically acquainted with not winning a B. Iden Payne. The lead up process was pretty identical. And again, you try to let it go and not be too attached to it, but when that name isn’t yours, I firmly believe that no human is so zen as to not be at least a little bummed. Last year I at least had the extra boost of happiness that my friend, Jonathan Itchon won and I was legitimately happy for him while being a little bummed for myself. So this year, I really tried (unsuccessfully) to detach. I’m a pretty zen guy and stuff like this doesn’t ever really get to me on anything more than a shallow, very temporary level, but still, there’s always that part of you that wants to win. To be recognized for the work you create so passionately from your soul.

The night finally arrives. Thank the universe I can stop thinking about it at all after tonight. The same battles wage inside. Trying not to care. Knowing you (not so secretly) want it. My category is about half way through the night. Such…a…long…time (not really). The moment arrives. They read the nominees. My name is first on the list. “Heath Allyn as Magnifico in Death Race Inferno by La Fenice.” Silence. Not a single clap. Oh god. I’m humiliated. Everyone hates me. Oh wait…that’s right…they specifically asked that no one applaud until all the nominees were read. I’m an idiot. Oh crap, they’ve read all the nominees, I should be clapping now. Well, here goes nothing. Brace for impact. And the winner is…WHAT? THAT WAS MY NAME! I THINK. I was sitting with Aaron and Genevieve (cast mates from the show) and Aaron grabs me. Maybe says something, I don’t remember but it’s apparent that it was definitely my name they said. I get up, probably looking completely stunned and in shock, though elated (A woman would later tell me in the lobby that she was sitting behind me and could feel my energy as I got up). The applause seems like the most clamorous din I’ve ever heard. I’m humbled and a bit overwhelmed. Man that is some thunderous applause. Now, of course, I know that the applause would have been there regardless of the winner but in that moment, just as the previous silence had been deafening, so seemed this applause and I felt like I could fly.

I make my way to the stage and jabber like a speed freak for a bit and make a fool out of myself (in the absolute best possible way, i.e. being pure me). I race along worrying about taking up too much time but also knowing I’m a verbose guy who always has a lot to say and trying to remember what important things I want to say. Or what utterly silly things I want to say. Tomato, tomato. I get emotional. My voice starts shaking. I have no idea what reality was, but in my mind, at least, I finished strong and got off the stage.

I was greeted by Kate and other well wishers and I hugged and gave thanks and floated through this strange dreamlike haze, probably seeming like a shock victim. I had some photos taken. Actually drank a glass of champagne (I never drink). Sat down for a minute and collected myself. After the massive adrenaline rush, I crashed hard and had a headache and felt exhausted but I stayed for the remainder of the show and mingled with all the amazing, talented people there. Eventually I made my way home and picked up some celebratory Whataburger.

I’m still buzzing. processing. Humbled. Honored. Elated. I don’t know exactly what I said in my acceptance speech, but I do know some major themes that are important to me that I want to reiterate here. Winning this award for this show is particularly meaningful to me for so many reasons. This was a collaborative show where we all created it together. We all created our characters, our own dialogue. I had such a strong vision and mission for this character, so that makes this even more special. I’m so thankful to La Fenice for first inviting me to play with them all those years ago and continually inviting me back. And for this show, for specifically wanting me for to create role. So much so that they didn’t say “Here are the dates, are you available?” They said “You have to play this role. When are you available?” I hope I lived up to the faith you had in me and this award is definitely all of ours as Magnifico would be very little without everyone else and their brilliant characters, writing, set design, props, et al. It was truly a 7 way collaboration. A completely original, crazy, wonderful show.

I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t thank my mother who was in community theatre before I was born, and was immediately toting my bassinet to rehearsals as soon as she was able. She has always supported me in everything I did or wanted to do and never pressured me to “Go to college,” or “Get a job.” She always allowed me my own path and supported it with nothing but love.

And then there’s my standard “awards” manifesto that I’ve written on several occasions and at least paraphrased at the ceremony tonight, but I feel it’s important. Every time these (or any) awards come up, a lot of people feel hurt or left out, and that sucks. I’m certainly not anti-awards. Celebrating and recognizing excellence is not a bad thing, but I always say to let those kinds of things be the dessert and not the sustenance you need to feel full or validated. Keep you head down, do good work and let that be the reward. Let the journey, the honing of your craft be what drives you. And if you’re lucky enough to be nominated or to win, yes, enjoy the hell out of it. Be grateful. Just don’t let that be the end all be all or let the lack thereof trigger your ego into thinking you aren’t a talented, amazing being. Because for every one person up there giving an acceptance speech, there are countless unrecognized geniuses and virtuosos out there. Maybe some are your friends. Maybe you know a few in passing. Most you’ve probably never even heard of. Enjoy your dessert but let the work itself be your sustenance.

If you’ve actually read these 1400+ words, then a) I’m surprised as hell, b) That means more to me than I can say as well and is its own reward. I feel like I should give you an award for that. I hope this doesn’t seem self-important, or…

Whatever. Enough self-conscious, self-deprecating disclaimers. This is me. I have shit to say. I know this isn’t life changing, or “The Oscars” or what-not and all my troubles and problems still linger as much as they did before tonight, but this does mean something to me. And I’ll enjoy the extra dose of happiness while I eat my dessert. Thank you. To the universe, everyone I’ve ever worked with, all those who continue to repeatedly work with me, and you. Yes you. I love you.

17
Dec
2016
21:53

Artificial Intelligence Christmas Carol

There are many articles such as this one and this one about The University of Toronto using something called “Neural Karaoke” to feed a computer images and then have the computer compose a song from that image. One of the results is this AI composed Christmas Carol.

I immediately knew I had to do a rendition of this wonderful song that some find incredibly creepy. So first I made some simple notation which you can download here to hand out if you want to play and sing this new perennial favorite.

Then I recorded a fully orchestrated version of the song, which can be heard here.

Happy holidays and may they be filled with lots and lots and lots of flowers.

20
Sep
2016
19:24

Accolades Are The Dessert, No The Sustenance

I’ve received many congratulations on my B. Iden Payne nomination, which is absolutely wonderful and I am very grateful and honored. But I’ve also seen a lot of people bummed out by not being included.
I have a very complicated relationship with awards and such for this reason. For every person that wins (or is even nominated), there are countless great, talented people who are not. So a handful of us feel really great, and a whole lot of others feel not so great. Some people don’t care. Some take it in stride. Some are bitter. There’s a whole range.
Look, I am thrilled and honored to be recognized for what I feel may have been one of my best stage performances of my 34 year acting career, but PLEASE know that these things are the icing. The dessert. They cannot be the sustenance which you need to feel nourished and validated, They are based on opinions. You just have no way of knowing what went into these thought processes.
We are human. We have egos. Most performers are particularly sensitive and want to be loved and validated and accepted. It’s a strange field in that artists are generally vulnerable and sensitive and yet have to work in a business of rejection and often feeling overlooked or unappreciated.
As long as there have been awards there have been feelings of bias, popularity, scheming, machinations, shenanigans and chicanery, or schemachinaniganery, to quote myself from the La Fenice show, “The Sparrow of Roma.” But in the end only a drop in the ocean of artists get recognized.
If it happens to you, enjoy it! I’m not saying shun it and say “down with The Man and the system!” Enjoy your accolades! But don’t let it or the lack of it define you. It doesn’t. I guarantee you there are brilliant, talented geniuses completely unknown and unrecognized. Yet. It’s a long game. A game of persistence. And most importantly, it’s about the work. Again, we are human so don’t ignore any feelings of disappointment. Acknowledge them but keep your head down and do good work. Enjoy any fruits than come your way but don’t get lost in the chase and addiction to them. That way lies eternal bitterness and unhappiness.
Also we are a community. As hard as it can be, learn to genuinely celebrate your peers and colleagues. Share in their happiness. Let your work and the experience of doing what you love be the meal, sustenance and nourishment. And when there is dessert, savor it and enjoy the hell out of it. But know that it is fleeting and ego fattening so it should only be a treat.
We are all in this together. Keep creating. Do good work for the sake of the work. And believe me I know how hard it is. Again, for perspective, I’ve been acting for 34 years and only have had a handful of “desserts.” And I don’t think that’s because I’m not good at what I do. So I’m going to enjoy this dessert, and get back to doing the best work I can do in everything I do. And I hope to work with you.

11
Jan
2016
17:16

RIP David Bowie

I had been wanting to learn “Life On Mars” for a long time but hadn’t got around to it. Last night, I hardly slept due to allergies giving me an annoying nasal drip and sore throat. I woke up today and saw that David Bowie had died last night. I thought, “Oh, too bad I never learned that song and even if I had, my allergies would prevent me from doing it justice today.”

Then I thought, “I could learn it right now. And would David Bowie let allergies stop him? Hell no, he wouldn’t.”

There are no words that can express the loss of such an artist in our world, so I’ll just let my meager cover of his amazing music speak for me. I had a weird time trying to get my (better quality external) audio to sync up and look right but after a while of staring and moving things by tiny fraction, it just starts to never look right, but you’ll get the idea.

I also picked the coat I thought Bowie would have liked best.

15
Jun
2015
13:22

Hey! Butch Walker!

Here’s some words you probably already know, from a guy you don’t at all know, but sometimes they’re good to hear any way. Fuck the naysayers. You are true to you, and no matter what course of action you take, there will be some group that doesn’t like it. If you grow and change, then there’s the people who don’t like that and want you to go back to the old stuff they like. However, if you keep doing the same thing, then there’s the people who will say you are stagnant and just repeating and rehashing yourself and why don’t you do something new and original.

Music is a relationship, and like all relationships, some will work out and some won’t. There are people who will grow apart, and there are people who will grow and stay together. All you can do is be true to you and there will always be people who will fall away, and new people who will discover you and not like your old stuff and people like me who can enjoy the whole journey, old and new.

If I have one “criticism,” if you want to call it that, it’s that you don’t give old Butch enough respect. I totally understand self-deprecation as a defense mechanism (and one I use quite a lot myself), but when I hear you talk of your old music as if you are embarrassed by it or don’t think it’s as good, it makes me sad and somehow devalues something that I hold in very high regard. If you will, indulge me a little background.

One day, I heard a song on the radio that really caught my ear. I called the radio station (where I used to work, in fact) and found out it was “Sugarbuzz” by some band called Marvelous 3. I bought the single and wore it out. I started seeking out more music by this band. I sampled a few tracks via illegal download (I admit it, I wanted to try before I bought). Found “Vampires in Love,” and many others then immediately went out and bought the other two Marvelous 3 albums. This music spoke to my soul. It fucking rocked, it moved me, it existed on so many levels. It could go from fun, silly, witty rocking to soul wrenching, heart ripping depth. I felt it represented me as person. Complex. Deep, passionate, silly, fun…complex, like most people. “She took a lightsaber to my heart,” “You were cool as hell like email but still timeless like a letter.” That last quote seemed especially apropos for this music. Contemporary but classic. I was hooked. I could quote genius Butch Walker lyrics for days.

You became one of the only contemporary artists making music that I followed and bought every album as soon as it came out. You became a part of my DNA as a musician and song writer in the same way The Beatles were and to this day remain probably my biggest influence alongside them. So to hear you dismiss a lot of that past, I feel is such a disservice not only to those like me who carry it as part of who we are, but more importantly, to yourself as an artist. That shit is not just good, it’s great. As is your new stuff. It doesn’t have to be either/or (despite some trolls who may want to make you feel that way). I know you have especially bad feeling about “My Way,” but I still find it a fun, rocking great song. It may not be as “deep” or “meaningful” as some of your other songs but that doesn’t devalue it as an awesome song in its own right.

I’m pretty sure I’m a fan for life as I doubt any direction you would go would ever be somewhere I wouldn’t want to explore as well. You are kind of my musical “spirit animal” as I feel my own songs and live performance come from a similar place. When I see you live (the best live shows I’ve seen), I can see myself in that performance. I know you’re human and sometimes your position can be a tough one with people ready to criticize no matter what you do, but just know that there’s plenty of us out there who have been on the whole journey and love it all. So don’t be such a bully to old Butch, because he’s still fucking awesome as well. You do what you do for yourself, and those who can appreciate it can enjoy the journey as well and know that you’re not some performing monkey to cater to their own personal wants and whims. You will lose fans and gain new ones. And through it all there will be those who will be there for the entire show, start to finish, singing at the top of our lungs as part of collective music. You’ve changed me as a person and an artist. Continue to stay true to your own personal journey. Don’t stop believing.

(See what I did there?)

(Sorry.)

(Not sorry.)