Andrew Thomas on Scat Singing

In May 2015, in the first week of our trip across the US, we had a chance to meet one extraordinary man. His name is Andrew Thomas and he is a jazz trumpet player. We met him through his brother Matthew, who Michal went to college with. Matt told us that Andrew is an interesting character, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Andrew charmed us, lured us into his beautiful mind and let us have a glimpse of what he calls his beautiful frustration.

We previously posted an interview with Andrew, but recently we started looking through some files we gathered during our four months journey and came across this video.

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February ’16 – Snapshot of life in the Philippines

We recently came back from the Philippines where we were visiting families of the new kids that joined the ICM Choir. We had the chance to visit new communities and take a look at this beautiful country and beautiful people with fresh eyes.

It’s important to remember to stop from time to time, to look up from our mobile phones and take a look at the world around us. Here is a snapshot of life in the Philippines.

You and Me Together

Part Two of the Smithfield Sessions is here!

And, as always, there is a journey to the story behind the music, which I want to take you on.

Think about the most significant person in your life. It may be your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, a dear friend, a sibling or parent…

Imagine you had never met… and imagine if you met them again today, what would happen.

Strange idea, right? It’s an interesting scenario to think about, and it really makes you think what strikes you about your dearest. What was it that drew you to them? What were your first conversations about?

Would you do it differently?

Today, if you met them again, would your paths still cross in the ways that they did?

My relationship with my husband started in such a chance encounter; I from England, he from Poland, and yet we managed to bump into each other in Hong Kong airport, and pretty much fell in love on the spot. If it hadn’t have been there, and it hadn’t have been then, it would have been almost impossible for us ever to meet again.

So, the idea of us meeting somewhere else at some other time in our life is so unlikely that it is fun to to explore those ‘what if’ questions…

I’m not sure that I believe in the idea of there being one person in the entire world that each of us is destined for. But I do know that the things I prayed for as a young girl are exactly the traits that are found in my husband.

And I would like to think that, under whatever circumstances we met, there always would have been that spark, that chemistry that hit me right in the part of the stomach where the butterflies live, and that we would have ended up together. 

That spark grows. Yes, the butterflies have settled down. And yes, I don’t think and talk about the love of my life every waking moment… but the spark has grown into a steady flame. A flame that is fierce and will fight to protect the one I love. A flame that needs intentional fuel. But a flame that will be sustained as long as we both shall live.

So, thanks for reading this far. Here’s your reward… This is “You and Me Together.”

Enjoy!

Louise

Hold Him Again

This is a song that had been “cooking” for a very long time. It’s one that I wanted to get right.

How do you deal with the death of a loved one? My father-in-law died extremely suddenly almost two years ago. I loved him dearly, but it was clear to me that there were those who loved him so much more than I did.

It caused deep unrest within my spirit. How does a wife deal with the passing of a husband? How would I ever deal with my husband’s passing away, if that tragedy ever fell upon me? Would I ever be able to love again? Would there be guilt? Would there be peace?

This song by no means sums up these emotions. How could they ever?

But this is my look at grief, hope and how it muddies the waters of love.

Louise

Robot Rickshaw

The line between technology and art today is probably as close as it has ever been: photographers rely on digital imagery and manipulation; movies are often largely, sometimes entirely, built using CGI; musicians don’t just record their work digitally but publish, promote and sell over the internet, often using sounds that are entirely digitally created… Where does art stop and technology begin?

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_MG_5409Troy, with his Robot Rickshaw, blurs those lines even further. When he first told us that he makes robotic instruments, my first thought was of C3PO and R2D2 in an epic version of guitar hero…

But as amusing as that might have been, what Troy has invented is something that is pushing both robotics and music in a new direction.

His Robot Rickshaw is a collection of instruments that play themselves, and Troy is both engineer and composer for this electronic orchestra.

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IMG_0250A one-stringed guitar, a collection of percussion, a clarinet and two “voices”, the band are all hooked up to the brain – Troy’s laptop – where he can adjust the sound, choose the compositions, and all manner of functions which I don’t pretend to understand!

Building his own software to control the instruments, Troy’s laptop screen was a maze of matrices and code that would impress any programmer.

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But Troy insists that he is a musician first, and not a scientist.

Taking his robotic orchestra around the country, Troy draws plenty of attention to his act as he pushes his rickshaw around wearing a HazMat suit. Ironically, he wears it so that it will draw attention away from him, and onto the music. “Otherwise, it just becomes a science demonstration,” he says. He wants people to not think so much about how it works, but just to enjoy the music.

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I have to say, even though I didn’t find the music hugely enjoyable, witnessing Troy’s orchestra was one of the mot fascinating and engaging performances I have ever seen. Troy travels the country like us, giving concerts, demonstrations and interviews as part of his PhD.

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As we swapped stories from the road over a 2am Ramen Noodle Supper, Troy shared about his time in Belgium with his mentor Godfried-Willem Raes who has pioneered music and robotics, and really does have an entire robotic orchestra collection.

One of the best stories was when Pat Metheny came to visit Troy and his colleagues in Belgium to see the instruments they were working on. He ordered several, and was going to be working on building something new with Troy, but in the end it fizzled out.  Troy hopes to build him a robotic guitar one day and just send it to him!

IMG_0249In Troy’s highly complex robotic system, what amazes me is that all of the instruments are actually analogue – the sound produced is not digital. The guitar is really plucked, the clarinet is blown, the cymbal is hit. And the speed at which the robots are able to perform is exceedingly fast… Troy works the sound into a frenzy of speed, proving that the robots are probably able to play much more intricate patterns than any human would…

But, we are not yet at the point in the technology race where the robots are able to create like humans. For now, though we are not sure for how much longer, only the human race still retains that beautiful ability: to feel music, to interpret it, to have music connect our hearts, souls, memories and emotions.

http://troy82.com

https://www.facebook.com/RobotRickshaw

Nashville Diaries

We were just supposed to be in Nashville for a day or two… we had one meeting planned and a couple of potential connections. The meeting turned into a perfect day of music, philosophy and, surprisingly, off-roading…

That evening, with very muddy tyres, we went up to Nashville not knowing where we were going and without plans. But it happened that Glen, an Aussie friend from Hong Kong, was in town at the same time. The person that he was going to meet invited him to an event that night – so we ended up at launch party for Weld; a creative collaborative space for designers, photographers and artists. Never have we seen so many hipsters in one room!

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Catching up with friends at Weld

It was a night of connections – first we were shocked to see two guys we knew from Hong Kong – Nick “the Greek” Georgiou, who had cut his epic beard, and Brady Toops who was now a Reality TV star. And the surprises continued when Michal met not one, but two people from university who he hadn’t seen for over ten years!

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Nick the Greek

Nick the Greek had promised us a tour of Fort Houston, where he works. “The Fort” as it is lovingly referred to, is an old hosiery factory that has been converted into workshop space for woodworkers, mechanics, metal smiths, artists and artisans. (For more on the Fort see our write up here).

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Is Everything In Order?

Inspired by the serious motorbikes that surrounded us, Michal started tinkering with the Land Rover engine. Honestly, the engine had cut out a couple of times previously, so we knew we needed to check it.

The oil was REALLY low. And Michal tried to clean the fuel pump… but it turns out that Michal doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows about engines, and it’s easier to unscrew something than put it back together.

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Becoming a real man…

So as we were driving away, we realised that the engine didn’t sound right… it was coughing and lurching and was obvious that we weren’t going anywhere!

But thankfully, we had hardly got out of the parking lot, and the motorcycle boys either knew what to do or knew whom to call. And amazingly there was a Land Rover specialist around the corner, who said that he would come over after work to check it out.

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Stuck in Nashville

When the mechanic showed up, he told us that we needed a new lift pump; and because it’s a unique car we needed to order it from a specialist dealer in New York. If we got the fastest shipping it would be here before the weekend…

So we were stuck in Nashville… but, hey… there are worse places to be stuck!

Over the next couple of days, we slowly fell in love with Nashville. The guys at Fort Houston took us under their collective wing, and we were semi-initiated into the Blackbirds Gentlemen’s Motorbike Assembly with the super spicy Hattie B’s chicken and the Fort Houston jersey.

The only problem was, we don’t have a motorbike… we only have a broken down Land Rover… but they didn’t seem to mind ☺

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Nick and Tanner, the Blackbirds

After two days of getting to know the city and the arts community, Friday morning came. After a serious breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we retuned to the Fort hoping that the part would have arrived.

But when we saw that the mail had been delivered and there was nothing for us, and that I still hadn’t received the confirmation email or tracking number from the company, we started to worry… If we didn’t get it today, we would be stuck until after the weekend!

Just then, I got an email saying that there was an incorrect zipcode on the order, and that I needed to call UPS to find out where the parcel was!

I finally got the tracking number, called UPS, and they told me that the shipment had been rerouted and that, even with the new, correct zip code, it wouldn’t be delivered until Monday…

But, Nick the Greek, a.k.a our saviour, got the address, jumped on his Harley and drove for over two hours to pick it up for us… and he even managed to grab us pizza in the process!

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To the rescue!

The mechanic was busy the whole day, and didn’t show up until 7.30pm on Friday night. He is obsessed with Land Rovers, and although he knew them well, he had never actually seen the 300TDi before. He was like a kid in a candy shop! And was very entertaining… we learned a lot that evening, and not just about Land Rovers… Patrick, one of the motorcycle guys stayed with us until 1am to help us finish, before being woken up early by his 2 year old daughter… I don’t think he got much sleep!

With the car fixed, there was a weight off our shoulders, and we should have been on our way. But we were having too much fun, and there was so much creative stuff going on that we had to at least stay for the weekend.

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Louise playing at Nashville’s Art Crawl, Fort Houston

Too many wonderful people and experiences to post about – artists, entrepreneurs, Land Rover lovers, lakes, barbecues, musicians… our souls were enriched and our senses were saturated!

We knew that we had to get back on the road, but put off saying goodbye for as long as we could. We had really found a home in Nashville – people who we admired, were inspired by, saw eye to eye with, laughed and ate and fixed things with.

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Bennett’s Airstream; Born in the N.A.S.H, at Porter Flea

We had been blown away by their hospitality, their generosity, their willingness to help us out and go the extra mile, or 100 miles, for. It’s an amazing feeling to be welcomed in to a community like the one we found at Fort Houston. What they have is truly special. We know we will be back.

After checking the oil one final time, (we had changed it once, and then again by accident!) we finally set off as the sun was setting and the rain stopped pouring.

And as we drove away, we were already trying to figure out how and when we could come back to Nashville. Michal realised the next day that he left his camera charger… I guess we’ll just have to go and get it!

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On the Road Again

What do Al Capone, Snoop Dogg and Dolly Parton have in common?

The answer is The Castle in Franklin, just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Built in 1929, this beautifully unique piece of architecture served as a hideout for Al Capone and his companions on trips from Chicago to New Orleans. There are still gambling symbols carved into the entryway, and rumours of secret passages and unmarked graves on the grounds…

The property was later converted into a high-end restaurant frequented by famous artists, but after falling into private hands, it looked like The Castle’s star studded days would be over.

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Jozef in front of the Castle Recording Studios

In 1981, Jozef Nuyens, a Belgian music student studying in Nashville, saw the property advertised in a magazine, and with a lot of ambition and energy, though he admits without much experience, bought the property with a dream of turning it into a studio.

“I was taken advantage of quite a few times in those early days. I learnt a lot very fast. You do when you are young!”

Jozef grew up in a very musical family, and from a young age toured with his family band. “We became much more successful than we ever imagined. So when I studied music at university, I was just learning the theory of everything that I had already been doing.”

Jozef’s lack of experience didn’t stand in the way, and within several years, the studio was attracting some of the biggest names in the region. Hundreds of Gold and Platinum Records have been produced at the Castle – “Often, the records produced here were the artist’s first ever Gold or Platinum Record… there’s just something about this place…”

And we felt that “something” too – from Dolly Parton to Snoop Dogg, Lionel Richie to Miley Cyrus and Johnny Cash to Bruce Springsteen, the legendary list of artists that have filled this place with their spellbinding melodies hangs beautifully and magically in the air.

Jozef attributes a lot of his success to his “left-brain, right-brain” balance. At undergraduate level he studied Maths and Latin, and manages to strike what seems to be the perfect balance between creativity and logic, between visionary dreams and meticulously planned strategies.

“I often acted almost as a ‘translator’ between artists and record labels. The labels want one thing and sometimes the artists want something different, so I helped them to understand how each other was thinking. And then find the right compromise.

“I didn’t get artists signed necessarily because I was a genius producer. I just understand both parties.”

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Jozef with his studio manager Beau

Jozef has since invested in a wide portfolio of different businesses; technology and finance and creative endeavours. He had stopped producing musicians, leaving the day-to-day production to his talented team. But one day, at his son’s annual recital, he heard an astounding young talent and knew he had to give him a chance.

As we sat, listening to the record they had just mastered, it was clear that Jozef still has his keen eye for what makes music that is just really good. Bright, catchy hooks; deep, simmering arrangements; intriguing, clever lyrics; and a voice that has maturity and depth beyond its years… What an honour for young artists like us to soak up this creative wisdom.

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Jozef and Louise listening to “Sail On” in Studio B

So as we sat, enjoying a proper Southern “meat and three” meal, we asked Jozef for his advice to two creative adventurers, and his advice was so pure and simple, but so fundamentally core that it will stay with us for many years:

“Keep doing what you love.”

New Orleans, LA

Our New Orleans objectives were clear: hear great music, eat great food.

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As we were on way to the city, we found out that a friend from California happened to be in the city at the same time. And we also found out that the annual Oyster Festival was taking place that day!

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Even before we parked, the soulful jive of a live band filled our ears. We instinctively walked towards it, and found ourselves in front of the main stage of the oyster festival, with sun, jazz and oysters in abundance!

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The day was spent much as it has started; always with music to be heard, something delicious to be tasted, and the quintessential French Quarter terraces with their hanging gardens spilling colourful blooms above us.

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Of course, we had to visit the famous Bourbon Street with its street performers and legendary musicians… but even early in the day, the drink flowed a little too generously, and a shouting, swearing match in front of a bar gave the place a sour feel…

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After lunch, with our ever-so-entertaining waitress Tamarra, we caught the old Nawlins tradition of a Second Line – a bridal party dancing their way through the streets after the wedding ceremony to the reception. And it poured! So we were all stuck together for a brief, chaotic, joyful moment.

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As the rain stopped, off they went.

Frail Travelling Coincidences

House concerts are very different to a regular show in a bar or concert hall. By the time you start singing, you’ve already had the chance to meet most of the people in the room. So when you sing and share the stories, you are now sharing them not with strangers, but with friends. Your audience absorbs your songs, differently as well – you are not just a musician, a performer on the stage: you become a real person.

The first house concert I played was in New Haven, Connecticut. A Yale University professor asked me to come and play; he invited a few of his friends and colleagues without his family fully knowing what was happening. His son Max kept asking “Dad, what’s going on here?” and he tried to explain “You know the girl that was here a couple of days ago, Louise, is doing a house concert” … “OK dad, but what’s really going on here?”

_MG_4237It wasn’t until I mentioned the concept of house concerts during the show, that he finally realised that they’re really “a thing”. I guess that shows that house gigs are not common; they have become popular in some parts of the country, but to be honest, I wasn’t even sure what to expect from the first one.

It’s interesting to see what kind of people we will meet during these intimate performances. In New Haven the room was full of University and NGO people, fighting global poverty. It was an interesting crowd to be part of. But the second concert I was invited to play happened yesterday and was even more unique. In a joke, after the show, we were joking that they can take my music beyond ‘the cloud’, further than all the other music… because most of the guests were working for NASA.

700px-Nasa-logoAs we arrived into Yorktown, VA, the first thing that we heard, and then saw, as we got out of the car were strange looking jet planes flying above us. All the signs that we had seen for Military Bases, and NASA, on the way started to make sense! Little did we know it, but our friend Whitney, who we knew from Australia, is married to a scientist who works at the NASA Research Centre.

And only a few hours later we found out that half of the audience in the room was working at the same facilities, from contract coordinators to fighter jet pilots. It’s so amazing to be able to meet people from different walks of life, hear their stories, where they come from and where they are going. It’s also and incredible privilege to be able to share our stories and piece of our lives with them.

To use the words of one of my favourite poets, Philip Larkin, “these frail travelling coincidences” are beautiful – yesterday, a lady told me that as soon as I started singing, she knew that the evening was a gift to her that she truly needed that evening. And likewise, we were blessed with good food, inspiration, deep rejuvenating conversation and plenty of laughter.

As we are about to head south to Charleston, South Carolina, where I’m booked to play two pub shows over the weekend, we are hoping to do more of these house concerts along the way. So if you’re somewhere out there and you enjoy music, good company and having a classic Defender parked on your driveway,  here is our intended itinerary for the next couple of months. Let us know if you would like to host us for a house show, club show or a music festival, we might just be in the area. Just let us know at louise@louisewrightmusic.com

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May 11thCharleston – South Carolina

May 18thMiami, Naples, Key West – Florida and Georgia

May 25thNew Orleans – Alabama, Missisippi, Louisiana

 June 1stNashville, St Louis – Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri,

 June 8thChicago – Kentucky, Illinois,

June 15thMinneapolis – Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota

June 22ndKansas City, Tulsa – North & South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas

June 29thAustin  – Texas,

July 6thLA  – New Mexico, Arizona, California

Jul 13thSFO – California

July 20thPortland, Seattle  – Nevada, Oregon, Washington