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The Minor Profits / Blog

One for Luke

The first time I heard Luke Kahawai sing, I was mesmerized. He was "the new guy" on the River Oaks worship team. I was playing keyboards. In he walked, looking like the laid back, yet situationally intense, Hawaiian he has always been. Barefoot, a bit disheveled, and late. And then he sang. I don't remember anyone NOT raising their eyes from their music to see who that was, and where that voice - that VOICE - came from.

The Minor Profits were young then. We weren't even The Minor Profits yet. We were a four piece, with myself and Andrew Kreider playing various instruments and sharing singing duties. Steve Martin played bass and Andrew Hauser had just come on as our drummer.

The more I heard Luke sing, the more I wanted to hear Luke sing. So, I approached him about joining the Minor Profits. Luke was a bit reluctant, and, to be honest, I think always has been. He had never been in a band, had never been a front man. His singing was in church and cleaning up on karaoke nights. Luke doesn't play an instrument, he doesn't write music - but he sure has been given a gift from God to SING it. And, selfishly, I wanted to hear him sing my songs.

I have written lots of music, and much of it has been sung by others - everything from jingles to songs for people's albums. But there has been a lot of my music that had been limited by my own voice. And then came Luke. He had ALL the limitless ability, and just needed the songs to show it.

My great friend Andrew Kreider has made me a better songwriter in thinking about chordal structure, but Luke has made me a better songwriter in thinking of melodies and vocal arrangements I never could have done without him.

Luke is a balladeer at heart. His voice can make anyone melt. But The Minor Profits managed to stretch Luke from that shell. We got him to push, to give all he had to being a big singer, a rock singer, a soul singer - and darned if he didn't do it - time and time again.

For the last five years I have written songs around Luke's voice. Our little band of brothers known as The Minor Profits has been through quite a bit over our time together. But we have somehow held together, and much of it has made for great song opportunities. Luke is so good at interpreting the songs. He rarely has to ask what I'm going for - he knows - he gets it. I'm to a point where it is very hard to imagine a song of mine without Luke's voice on it - and I don't know that I want to- not yet at least.

So many moments with Luke are memorable. But there are three particular things that are standing out right now: 1) The recorded version of Tell Me Once - Luke is an Amos Lee fan, and so am I. I am also a soul fan, and a Motown fan. I KNEW when I wrote this song Luke would nail it - and he did. Though it is a sometimes overlooked track of ours, it is simply one of my all time favorite recorded Minor Profits moments. 2) I Don't Know How gets its first performance at The Electric Brew. We got an unplugged gig as a five piece. We were trying to figure it out. I started the piano intro and Luke dove in. Just he and I, and the room went silent. There is a recording of that version somewhere, and you hear the room stop - just STOP - to listen. And even at the end, there is that pause -and then the applause, for that voice, on one of the most personal songs I have ever written. 3) 22 Days. This song, though we have never gotten a recorded version worth releasing as it can't hold a candle to the live show, was really the first TRUE Minor Profits tune. It got broken apart and rebuilt by the band - and it made Luke a rock singer. His final notes echo in my head for hours after each show - and often they are the final notes from this song.

Luke and Natasha - I am so proud of you for everything, and for this giant leap of faith. I will miss you both, and Luke, my friend, your voice has made me a better writer and has been my outlet for five years. I will be words and music- but without a voice. Peace to you both.

Bricks and Overpasses

On a recent drive from Cleveland to Elkhart on the Ohio Toll Road which, no offense to my home geography or anything, is one wicked boring stretch of road, I was surprised to briefly see an object hurtling through the air toward my car. It wasn't flapping, nor squawking - in fact it was simply falling - like a quick dead weight - until it hit with a rather loud THUNK on the front of the hood and careened off to the side of the highway, narrowly missing a couple semis (the OTHER things that keep one awake on the toll road between Cleveland and Ohio). The spray of red powder that came across the windshield, and couple small stone chips that appeared as well, led me to believe I had, indeed, been "bricked." Yes, some not so well-meaning person (or, group of "persons") had dropped a brick from one of the few non-caged overpasses left and it happened to catch the front end of my vehicle. (Which, I suppose luckily, happened to be a rented Subaru Legacy)

Now, to make this story better I happened to be on the phone with my wonderful wife Jen at the time. I'm not prone to cursing much, so she knew something was up when all the big four escaped my mouth - "What the f---", "S---", "Son of a b----" and "D---" all made their way into the tense air around me. Jen heard the thump, asked if I was okay, and I told her what happened. Since the car was easily drivable, and there was no way of scaling the mini-mountain that stood between the 70 MPH speed limit zone and that overpass holding those who deemed themselves in higher places, I kept heading home. I told Jen I was fine but will likely see that thing in my dreams.

On the drive I was thinking about the folks who threw that brick. I can't really chalk this one up to a youthful prank - I mean, had that hit ANY windshield someone could have easily been seriously hurt or killed. And that's no prank, folks, that's, well, taking someone's life.

And it's taking it in a nameless, faceless, cowardly way. Completely random. Completely anonymous. No guts. And CERTAINLY no glory. Completely cowardly.

And THAT led me to pondering all the times each day people speak ill of other people without the other person having a defense. Heck, I've done this too, and it's a terrible thing to speak ill of someone, or take them down, without them having a clue. It's simply throwing bricks from overpasses. Random drivebyes.

And that got me thinking about music, because almost anything does. And the times I have randomly dismissed something simply because "I didn't like the sound or style." Well, you know what, I don't know the story do I? Or the artist. I mean, look, there are likely some things I will ALWAYS have a hard time rallying behind, but why throw bricks? I need to know the story, see the person, see the songs, before making any rash decisions.

And then, I was home. And Jen left a brick on the counter with a note saying "sweet dreams." And I was back to reality, and thinking about Annie Lennox.

One for dad

I think the best thing any father can do for his child is be a teacher. Whether intentionally teaching, teaching by example, or, perhaps, teaching by NON-example.

My dad, John Charles Lichty, passed away on his 70th birthday in the year 2000 from complications stemming from alcoholism. Truth be told, I had to make the decision to "pull the plug" on dad, as he had suffered serious brain injuries due to a fall - and he never would have had a good life again. And that life, well, THAT life would have REALLY killed him.

My dad wasn't always drinking. In fact, he managed to eek out 20 sober years while I was growing up. It's hard to know what made him start again after all that time - and once it started, neither I, nor dad's siblings, nor MY siblings, had what it took to stop it. Only dad and God did- just like last time - but this time, dad didn't want to stop.

Now, before this sounds like a weepy story, it is worth noting my dad taught me MANY wonderful things during his time on earth: My dad had an incredible record collection (yes, kids, VINYL) and a ridiculously large, tube stereo on which he would play some of the best jazz albums ever recorded. Big band, combo, vocal, Basie to Kenton, Getz to Fitzgerald, Coltrane to Davis - he had them all. And he also listened to classical - BIG classical. Brahms, Rachmaninoff. And, of course, the comedy records of Spike Jones. Dad's influence on my musical life can not be understated. He came to every concert - even making his way to gigs my band played in college.

And dad taught me how to grill a steak, how to make perfect pancakes on Saturday morning, how to sing the bass line when looking at a hymnal. He never shied away from talking to me about women and those uncomfortable questions about sex.

Dad taught me how to swing a golf club AND the etiquette of the game. He helped me learn to drive in a 1984 Mercury Grand Marquis (AKA- Yacht with 4 wheels) that we drove all the way to Georgia for a golf tournament over spring break one year.

He helped me appreciate a storm over lake Michigan, the beach, Traverse City.

He inadvertently taught me NOT to smoke by leaving his unfiltered Pall Malls out. Made me horribly sick.

And, of course, coming back full circle, dad taught me NOT to drink. He did so as a sober alcoholic first - and then, when he started again, the spiral was remarkable. I am not a preachy non-drinker. Even I, on very rare occasions, enjoy wine or a drink. But I never want my kids to have to see me like I saw dad at the end.

I try not to remember the dad I saw then. We still play "Sunset"- a song I wrote during that time about dad, but other than that - I try to remember the dad of our first weekend in October golf trips up to northern Michigan, where we played Boyne and loved every minute of it. I remember the dad who told the same silly jokes and stories over and over, but I still laughed every time.

And I remember the dad who would close his eyes, and get lost in the music. And every time I fire up one of my jazz albums, I think how much I am like him, how much I learned from him, and proud I am to be his son.

No one is ever perfect, and we can learn great things from everyone.


Why Adele should surprise no one

I will preface this by saying I totally dig Adele. I first heard her when, a number of years back, I ordered a tea at Starbucks and was handed a free download for Chasing Pavements. I liked everything about the tune, and, naturally, got everything else I could of hers.

Then, 21 comes out. Rolling In The Deep is everywhere. EVERYWHERE! And all the people are saying this "surprise hit" from across the pond has won us over. And maybe that's true, but it shouldn't be, and it was no surprise to me.

Adele does three things incredibly well - she writes what she knows, she writes MELODIES, and she delivers them with passion.

Oh, sure, you say, that's easy on a break up record. No it's not. Those things are never easy. And besides, Adele did it all over 19 - her first album, as well. And she hadn't been stomped on by some bonehead at that point in her life.

Look, the world has ALWAYS been full of manufactured pop stars who will come and go. So I don't really bemoan the current state of music (other than it's REALLY hard for the typical small to mid-level touring act to make ANY money these days). It is what it's always been. But when folks refer to something as sounding really fresh - what I have found that means is it has those three magic things: a song written from someone's heart, a real melody and a real performance.

I know some great icons weren't known for their writing skills: Elvis, Sinatra, Joe Cocker. But man could they PICK a song and DELIVER it.

Rhythm is an essential part of pop music. It drives it. Hooks are an essential part. But if you want to last longer than your one hit song - if you want to make it through a first AND second album. If you want to have a decade behind you - pour it on the page. Write what you know. And then wrap that around a melody, THEN put the chords in place around the melody. THEN set the rhythm. And now, give it your all as a singer, or give it to your best singer. And stand back, and watch people respond to YOUR SONG. The complete package. The whole thing.

Adele is no flash in the pan. And, frankly, she shouldn't have been surprise to any one. She writes what she knows, she writes melodies, and she wails on them. And I, for one, am so grateful she is here.

Up - or - down the creek

Our teenage son and his friend recently announced to us they were going canoeing. His friend, you see, lives on the river nearby and has a canoe. So, we figure, cool, it's outside, it's exercise, go and have a good time.

Well, thankfully, my brain has matured since I was a teenager (no really, it has) - thus I didn't think through everything they DIDN'T think through. Like, well, putting a car DOWNSTREAM to wait for them.

So, they head downstream, have a great time, get to the dam, and then, well, in their words "We figured we'd just paddle back upstream."

"And how did that work for you?"

Sheepishly - "Umm, not real well, we got tired and didn't make it."

Luckily we are in the era of cell phones, so they were able to call for a ride and make it back.

Sometimes, in music, we come up with a great idea - a great song, a great hook, a great lyric - but then what do we DO with it?

We need to learn to plan, to get things out there, sure, but in a planful way, so people can hear it, or see it live. Whatever the means, there is one thing for sure - our ideas are not meant to just sit, they are meant to go places, just, go places with a plan!

All quacked up

Last Saturday morning I went out to get the newspaper when I noticed a male, mallard duck staring ominously at me from my second story roof. Yes, I used duck and ominous in the same sentence. Because, well, let's face it - despite the fact that ducks HAVE wings, they often don't use them to scale small buildings and lurk over the edge like some sad, out of place, amphibious gargoyle.

Well, it turns it was a bit of an omen, as each morning since then he has greeted me (on the ground) with a rapid fire succession of quacks and, best as I can muster, an attempt at a "charge" (read as "aggressive waddle").

Okay, so I know he's defending what he is perceiving as his turf. We live close to a small lake, so perhaps he and the little duckette have settled into a little love nest nearby and he wants to make sure to protect them. Hey, maybe he finds me attractive - either way, he's focusing his anger in the wrong direction.

We do this in music a lot - we think we know what we're doing is WAY right, and anything else is wrong. And we focus our energies on assuring that people think it's wrong. Remember when downloading started? It was the end of the world. And rather than figure out how to work together, it was all out war. And everyone ended up looking like idiots except Steve Jobs.

We judge pop stars on selling out - rather than celebrate success and analyze the song to see why it had appeal. We bemoan the "good old days of rock and roll" without appreciating what's new.

We're a bunch of quacking ducks attacking nothing at all. Instead, we should celebrate this marvelous gift of music and lift each other up for continuing to create joyous noises!

Chapters versus endings

I've always been a reader. My mom is a big reader, my dad was a big reader - so I guess it made its way to me. And I have generally always been a fan of fiction. Sure, I enjoy a good biography as much as anyone - and I'll peruse a good business or leadership book- but at the end of the day I love to lose myself in a good story.

And one of the things I love in fiction is coming to a new chapter. Sure, it's a cliche anymore, but I find chapter changes pretty exciting. I'm really not a change averse person - and "chapter" changes are usually good changes. Change of scene, introduction of a new character, a new possibility, a turn in the story. All of these are things any of us deal with in life.

But I have always dreaded the END of a book. One, because I feel so vested in these characters I feel I am losing a little part of them when I close that cover for the last time. The other is because I often want to know the rest of the story. Authors rarely do the FULL arc of a character's life - it is a snapshot of a moment in time. And I find I am saying goodbye before I am ready.

In the last week I have said goodbye to three people from my life - Amy Pribulick, a coworker who is going on to a new opportunity. A chapter ender for her, and while we will stay in touch - we know the reality is I will likely never know all the rest of the story. Luke Kahawai, the singer whose amazing voice has been the vehicle for my songs for five years as he heads off to a new adventure in Hong Kong. Again, a chapter change for him, for me, I may never see Luke again - or hear his sweet voice tear through one of my new songs. And finally, Amy Rauch, my high school classmate and bandmate who was a genuinely amazing person who passed away this week from breast cancer. Amy leaves a remarkable legacy, and yet, somehow, one can't help but wonder what more there could have been. She is in a better place - but she leaves a giant hole down here.

Ending three books in the course of a little over a week is a bit much for a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve as much as I do. I keep thinking I should head to the studio and write some songs, and maybe I will, but now, I need to spend some time picturing the rest of the story for three of the greatest characters who have come into my life.

Peace to all of you.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

I really hate saying goodbye - especially when it is to a bandmate. Luke Kahawai, who has been the voice of The Minor Profits for the last five years, is taking a giant leap of faith as he and his wife are getting ready to head off to Hong Kong to teach English.

It's hard to know how many shows we'll have between now and Mid-July when Luke leaves - all we know for sure is the one for this Saturday, May 5 at Wellfield Gardens. We'll likely plan a farewell at Ignition Music this summer, but no guarantees.

Luke has been an amazing gift into my life. It has brought me great joy to write for such a versatile voice. Luke and I are both baladeers at heart - the first time he sang I Don't Know How - it melted me and most of the room at The Electric Brew.

Luke danced the skink when we did our one reggae tune, "Without You." He hated me for writing songs with lots of words (like "Head Full Of Hank") - and helped turn my most basic of tunes - like "Nobody Calls Me Baby" (2 chords and a hook) into our live favorites and staples.

Luke is lousy at memorizing, so the book with words on the music stand became a part of his schtick. Maybe if we were a richer band (more major profits) we could have swung for a teleprompter of some type - but low-tech seemed to work.

We are hoping to finish recording as much as we can over the next few months, as some of my latest tunes, especially the ballad Desiree, were tailor written for Luke.

The Minor Profits have been a band that has always ADDED people - we started with just Andrew Kreider, Steve Martin and myself seven years ago. We're not used to watching one leave - especially one that is so ingrained as a part of The Profits and our sound.

Your natural question is, "what's next" - frankly, it's ours too. To be honest, we're not sure. The one thing we know is - we love Luke, we're better for having known him, my songs are better having had his voice on them, we'll miss him, and we sincerely wish him the best.

Take the opportunity to see us with Luke before he heads off to the other side of the world.

And let us know your favorite vocal performance of Luke's - It would be hard to pick mine - "Tell Me Once", "I Don't Know How", - how about you?

We'll miss you Luke - very much!

Take Me With You - Recording 2012 - Day 2

Depending upon your knowledge of recording, our second recording session for the new album will either seem like we accomplished a great deal - or next to nothing. We finished one brand new song - See Ya Willemina - all instruments and vocals - in about 3 and a half hours.

Quick update for those who don't know how this works - the general process is you lay down "basic tracks" (for a rock style album this is bass, drums, rhythm guitar, and a piano or organ track). This becomes the "bed" (because everything then lays on top of it - get it?). We had gotten basic tracks done for four tunes on our first session - including See Ya Willemina.

The next step is overdubs - this is where you put in additional instruments. Then, lead vocals, followed by background vocals. Listen to see if it is desperately in need of a finger cymbal hit riiiiiiiiiggggggghhhhht THERE. Add finger cymbal (or other miscellany implements of musical destruction that will "so make this tune".) Then mix all those parts together. Voila. Song. Then all those songs get mastered. Voila. Final product.

It's actually a blast. I have been doing this a very long time. I first started tinkering with recording when I was about 12. I got my first job as an intern in a recording studio at 16 (Ambience Recording Studios in Farmington Hills). It was an amazing place. We worked with Bob Seger, Anita Baker, Grand Funk Railroad, Barry Manilow, Julian Lennon - and lots of commercial work as well.

The mixing board was the first SSL (that's Solid State Logic - super serious equipment in those days) in Michigan. It looked straight off the deck of the Enterprise. We had two massive 2" 24-track machines (that's analog tape kids). Racks of effects gear. Isolation rooms. Big tracking rooms. It was amazing.

For these sessions I am taking my Tascam D3200 around to our locations, along with my monitors and mic case and headphones. It fits in the backseat of my Honda.It has nearly all the firepower of the main room at Ambience. It is amazing.

The process has changed, the gear has changed - but the core skills (good ears, patience, creativity) to get a good recording haven't. And the one thing that will never change in recording is the magic when it's "just right." It may not be a perfect track, but it feels sublime. It's pure magic.

I can take my studio anywhere now. We have the ability to get pretty decent recordings in many rooms and environments. But if you want to take an audience with you, work on creating magic - a vibe - a feel on your project. Less technical. More magical. And take us all along for the ride.

You Had Me At Hello

I always challenge myself when writing a song to have a great first line - sometimes I think I pull one off ("You Never Let Me Down, Baby", "You deserve the stars above and the skies from which they shine"), but many times I don't.

Apart from a great intro (which I'll explore soon in another writing), a great first line really helps set the stage for a great song. It draws people in, it makes them want to hear more - tell me more of the story.

So, I'll go out on a limb and list a few of my favorite opening lines - I'd love to hear yours!

"Little ditty 'bout Jack and Diane" - Jack and Diane - John Mellencamp

"I was a little too tall, could've used a few pounds" - Night Moves - Bob Seger

"If you walk through the garden, you'd better watch your back" - Way Down In The Hole - Tom Waits

"There are places I remember all my life though some have changed" - In My Life - The Beatles

"Show me show me show me how you do that trick, the one that makes me scream she said" - Just Like Heaven - The Cure

"Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood, when blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud" - Shelter From The Storm - Bob Dylan

"Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand" - Hey Joe - Jimi Hendrix

"Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day" - Time- Pink Floyd

"It's getting to the point where I'm no fun anymore" - Suite: Judy Blue Eyes - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

"In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream" - Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen

I bet, depending on your age group - you started singing a lot of these tunes right after seeing the first line.

I could go on and on and on -but, enough from me - what's your favorite first line of a song?