Tag Archives: music

The Coffee Cellar (One From The Vaults)

Mocha Lab The Coffee Cellar Paul Shapera

I was asked awhile ago to some time feature some work of mine that really goes back. Something early.

Now, if we go back too early we arrive at utterly unlistenable. This is a project from some years ago, back in the 90s. It was the first album i did under the name Mocha Lab, which i came up with specifically because i needed a “band” or artist name for the album and though my own name was way to uncool.

It was the 90s. Electronica ruled the landscape along with grungy rock.

I was even looser then i was now, and that’s saying something.

So i was visiting this buddy in a college town. My car at the time was always likely to have something wrong with it, such as… you know, expired registration, unpaid tickets at various points across the US… anyway, my car got taken to the pound and i couldn’t get it out until i sorted this tickets and license issue. I ended up in this town for about 2 to 3 weeks and i lived in this coffee shop. Literally lived there. From open to close i’d be there and upon closing head to the bars. I slept on an array of couches. I fell in love with the place. I had a blast.

At some point i decided i could immortalize the place and the time in music, so i went out and bought some really cheap little hand recorder and i’d record people around the Coffee Cellar. I’d be carrying that recording around all the time for DAYS. At times i’d even just leave it quietly on a table and return and pick it up 20 minutes later.

I took all these tapes home, lifted what i liked off of them and put them to electronica-y music, using the spoken stuff in the place of sung verses and choruses.

The result was the album The Coffee Cellar.

Years later it sound a little rough and unpolished, but it should. I was rough and unpolished. The place and the people were all young and unpolished. It was however the first album i had ever made up to that point that could actually listen to and LIKE after a few months had passed. It was honestly the first truly solid work i had ever done.

So for kicks and giggles, here it is. A little taste of youth.

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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Female Tom Waits

rickie lee jones

I feel bad about the title of today’s post. These fine women have their own styles and don’t deserve to be classified by how they stack up to this one guy. However this encompasses a major element i’m looking for in the singer who will voice Jacqueline O’Brien.

I’m never going to get the singer i want. It’s not that i have a specific singer in mind, it’s just… between the limited access i have and the pathetically paltry sum i have to pay them (if you know someone who fits the descriptions i’m about to give who wants to sing on the Dieselpunk Opera as Jacqueline for $300 please send them along) i’m going to have to work with what i can get. That’s life. But we can dream big.

Jacqueline O’Brien in a mature woman. I want her to sound between 40 and 60. The actual age of the singer is irrelevant, she should SOUND between 40 and 60. She should sound weathered. She should be an alto. She should sound cool as hell.

This is why i bring up Tom Waits. He and his music have that sound. Weathered, not young, cool as hell. The fact that he’s a genius in my book and one of my top 5 musical gods of all time probably factors in.

So today we’re going to list a number of women who embody this. Who have that thing i think Jacqueline should have. Who are cool. Who you’d sit with on a rusty fire escape smoking cigarettes passing a bottle of whiskey back and forth with while shooting the shit.

1. Rickie Lee Jones

I LUUUUV Rickie Lee Jones.Cool? The girl OOZes cool. (She also actually dated Tom Waits in the late 70s). Go check out her album Pirates.

2. Nina Simone

She is a GOD.

3. Marianne Faithful

Here is a gem i’ve plundered repeatedly over the years. Remember the movie City Of Lost Children? That was an awesome movie. Here’s Marianne Faithful singing a song from the soundtrack.

4. Thalia Zedek

5. Sandy Dillon


6. Eleni Mandell

7. PJ Harvey


8. Fiona Apple

This might sound surprising, but i’m sticking with it. She is an amazing songwriter with a deep, unique style all her own, an AWEsome alto voice and she’s got soul to spare.




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Posted by on March 1, 2013 in Uncategorized




I’ve taken an evening to research and listen to a bunch of ragtime. Rather then be coy about it, i’ll just come right out and explain how it’s relevant.

For the first song of the 2nd Act of the Dieselpunk Opera i need a light, upbeat song with which to introduce Constance O’Brien and in particular discuss her profession and the societal circumstances around it.

You might think another New Albion song would be the obvious choice to fit in here, but it would be utter overkill. A New Albion song at the beginning of every Act is a Steampunk Opera device. To use it at the beginning of the Dieselpunk Opera to establish continuity is great. But after that it’s overkill. We must move on. We are not a one trick pony.

So, a light upbeat song that discusses a specific aspect of a character and New Albion upper class society. What would really work is a genre song. We pick a genre from the 20s or 30s, something that fits (can’t be Oh Brother Where Art Thou type music because while correct in period, it would be wrong for discussing upper class society) and that song is our little genre piece. Kind of like The Ballad Of The Gambler And The Monk.

Now, i’ve done listening sessions based on Latin big band music that was enormously popular back then like Cuban, the Mambo, the Rhumba and other son based big band/dance styles. But i can’t use THOSE for this because in our next song when we actually get down to the plot, Constance will be at an upper class soiree, dancing with some guy. That song will be upbeat too and more energetic so the first song should not compete.

Hence something like ragtime. Upbeat, light, good for a one off number.

I haven’t decided. I’m just considering.

Ragtime actually came from John Philip Sousa marches believe it or not. They were the popular melodies going around at the time.  Ragtome is a very piano based style that uses these marching rhythms: That left hand is playing a straight one two march rhythm. African American musicians like Ernest Hogan would play those marches, but add some more complex and witty syncopations to the right hand melody based off his culture’s African sense of polyrhythm which had survived the nightmarish journey to the US.

Polyrhythym, just for the record, is superimposing one rhythm over another, like a 3 count over a 4 count, or in this case favoring the beats in between the main beat.

Thus, in this crazy new ragtime style, the melody would be syncopated, notes made to be stabbed in beTWEEN the one-two beats instead of the square “always on the beat” marches.

I would love to demonstrate.

First, let’s hear a famous John Philip Sousa march. Great melody and hear how everything falls on that one-two marching beat:

Now, hear how early ragtimers like Scott Joplin are playing that essential Sousa rhythm on the low notes, but the melody is continuously stabbing the spaces in between the one two marching rhythym:

THAT is ragtime.

The style exploded. From the beginning of the century through the 20s it was epic. It was the rock and roll of its day until by the 30s its evolutionary child Jazz overtook it and laid it in the dust.

As with every single musical style pioneered by African Americans, a certain segment of white America went ballistic with outrage. There were doctors who warned of the dangerous effects of ragtime music and syncopation on the brain and body. Many march loving folks dismissed it as “coon music” and many preachers assured their flocks it was the surest way to the fiery pit with all its lustful rhythms that could only have been thought up by Satan. The rock and roll of its day indeed.

However, this did not stop its wildlfire spread and mass appeal. It was fun, great composers came up with immensely catchy melodies, you could dance to it AND it didn’t require a large band. A single piano player could belt it out.

I leave you with a modern ragtime song which you may not have realized was ragtime but i assure you, is. Once again, notice how the lower rhythm is a straight march and the upper melody jibs and jabs at those rhythms in between. ( I also adore watching the bald guy play. His smiles are wonderful. Not to mention the yin yang of the two of them playing together is awesome and at times even kind of funny.)


Posted by on November 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Catnip Tea

In our last post we detailed how guitarist Miljen Aljinovic saved my sanity. But just who is this masked man, roaming the wilds of Eastern Europe with a guitar on his back in his self imposed sabbatical?

For one thing he writes an amazingly thoughtful and well written blog (not something i could ever say) The Catnip Nomad. (It used to be The Modern Nomad but it turns out there’s already a bunch of those).

But what we’re going to focus on today is his psychedelic grok rockband, Catnip Tea.

The band, currently based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico and soon to relocate to Portland Oregon (yay Portland! I lived there once and loved it) is an experimental psychedelic rock outfit concerned with innovative music and structure over formula and convention, and conveying complex spiritual and existential ideas through sound.

I present the first “single” off what will be their new album Ouroborealis. The song is Muldahara and i reprint the descrioption from their Bandcamp site:

“The new CatNip Tea album, “Ouroborealis” is an attempt to depict and perhaps better understand and maybe then even explain the evolution of a human consciousness from its component parts before conception through its development and on to its culmination.

It is divided into three “trinities”, and the second of these three deals with Muldahara (the survival chakra) becoming Swadisthana (the sex chakra) becoming Manipura (the greed chakra). Swadisthana and Manipura develop in people in many different ways depending on the conditions and beliefs within which they were raised. Anything from religion to personal experience to economic opportunity dictates how we first encounter and experience and deal with these stages. And while depending on where and when in the world one is born, his experience with Muldahara may very quickly begin to differ from another’s, our basic experience of the will, craving, and fundamental need to survive is universal.”

If you like it please go to their Bandcamp site and buy it. it’s name your own price. Their general Bandcamp page is here.

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Posted by on November 4, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Listen To The Dieselpunk Radio Hour Act 1 Demo

Here is the demo for the 1st act of The Dieselpunk Opera.

Dieselpunk, for those of you unfamiliar, is a fantastical take on the aesthetics from the period of WWI to WWII.

As it follows chronologically after Steampunk so does this opera follow New Albion after the end of the Steampunk Opera.

There are two characters singing (3 of you include a very brief recording of a girl): The Announcer and John O’Brien. It being a demo, the composer is singing all the parts but you should be able to figure out which part is which fairly easily.

Since this is a demo it will only be online for 5 days. After this i will take it down. It’s not meant for general consumption.

This is the first of 3 Acts.

(Edit: It’s just past 5 days but i have received several emails asking very nicely that i please leave this up for just a little longer. While i will take it down eventually, why on earth would i want to refuse kind people who actually want to listen to my music? As for those of you who actually liked it enough to buy it, knowing it;s not the final version, i love you want to marry you all.)


Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


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It’s no secret i do a bunch of work with Matthew Broyles of The Matthew Show. However, that is not why i’m dedicating a post to his new album Memphis.

I’m dedicating a post to it because i honestly, truly love it. I have found myself putting it into my computer music player night after night when i sit here to do my nightly computer shenanigans. The songs are fun and clever. They’re perfect for an end of day album to nod my head along to and Matthew has always had a penchant for clever and poignant lyrics.

If i have the story right, Matthew and his band went to Memphis for a Folk Alliance concert and somehow got the chance to step into the famed Ardent Studios to do some live recording. After doing the song they were brought in to record in commemoration of a dead friend, they found themselves with a heap of leftover studio time. So the engineer hit the record button and they played a set.

This album is that set. It’s a perfect snapshot of the band at the moment. And the band is TIGHT. They bring Matthew’s songs to life dynamically and wonderfully. This album just does it for me. It makes me feel like i’m sitting on a front porch somewhere in Texas  with a beer after dark, my feet up, nodding my head to some great americana nerd pop.

Listen. Enjoy. If you like, please buy. This is how we musicians feed ourselves. Literally. Eat.

So grab a brew, set your feet up and enjoy.

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Posted by on October 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Mountains of Madness and The Tiger Lillies

In 2005 the Tiger Lillies, a killer band who’s been doing the dark side of steampuynk since before steampunk even existed  and Alexander Hacke of the avante garde noise band Einstürzende Neubauten came together to perform a series of original songs based on H.P.Lovecraft stories.

The results are excellent, as one would expect. The Tiger Lillies are a stupendous act and this is the first time they have collaborated or much less had any type of non acoustic instrument on the stage. The Tiger Lillies are a 3 piece, using accordion, upright bass and drums, with the accordionist singing the best falsetto in the business. Their material is dark. They’re like a twisted penny dreadful come to life.

I present here the entire concert. Perfect sound. Perfect video.Take a listen. Hell, if you aren’t familiar with The Tiger Lillies either start at the beginning or just skip to ANY point in the show and sit back for a spell. Set your shoes up.

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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Uncategorized


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