Tuesday, December 7, 2010

'Alpha' by Amber Lee and the Anomalies

It's true!
I finally made a pro video with my friends Mark Nichols and Julie Lewis.
And here it is:

It took two very packed days.
We had to find two locations - the cafe scene, and the dog park.
We re-arranged all the furniture in Mark and Julies small 1 bedroom apartment in Echo Park (Los Angeles.)
And I had gigs at night on each of our long days.

Julie came up with the fabulous idea of making the male character that I 'Alpha' a point-of-view character with male hands (which were Mark's.)
It made casting so much easier; we only had to find Jenni the dancer, and Marisol (their neighbor) to be one of the girlfriends.

It was fun watching Mark and Julie work together as a two headed monster - Julie had to hold the camera while Mark had his hands in the shot - but the camera had to be basically in front of his face in order to read as his point of view.

Now I'm addicted to making videos!
I hope to make one for each song on my upcoming album, 'Indelible.'

I have a few ideas brewing... stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

General Update, and the Life of an Indie Musician

Wow, I realize it has been a while since my last post.

And boy have I been busy!

These past few months I have been finishing up my new album ‘Indelible.’ I went to Lark in the Morning music camp, Burningman, participated in fun festivals like the Handcar Regatta and the Rivertown Revival, and went on tour with Those Darn Accordions. I’ve been continuing to learn accordion repair at Smythe’s Accordion Center. And the 2011 Accordion Babes Album and Pin-up Calendar was launched at the Cotati Accordion Festival!

While all of these fun and amazing opportunities have been mind expanding and wonderful, there has continued to loom the question of how does an independent artist make a living at this lifestyle?

Lark Camp

With the Neverwas Haul at Burningman

Dressed up at the Handcar Regatta

Backstage at an Oktoberfest with Those Darn Accordions!

In the year of “going for it,” that question has not been fully answered. I have continued to have the lucky support of the years I spent working as an architect in the form of unemployment. Which will soon be ending.

So far, it seems that touring has been a semi-lucrative strategy. Luckily my new album is almost done, and I will have new music to sell. But do people really buy CDs and music anymore? I am also learning to silk-screen. I am excited to be offering merchandise with my fun new logo-design. I don’t want to just offer the standard t-shirts – I want to have many types of up-cycled clothing with cool custom Amber Lee and the Anomalies designs on them. I am just now working on the first versions.

The "Accordion Love Tattoo" Graphic to be silk-screened on clothes

And I have also launched a Kickstarter fundraiser. This trend has become popular in the self-funded world of indie music and films. So far I have paid for this entire album out of my own pocket – and I am amazed that I have been able to afford it. I have made sacrifices and special arrangements to make sure that this album gets done before I loose momentum.

I am SO excited about these new songs and the way the have turned out! And I also decided to have it mixed by the talented and renowned engineer, Oz Fritz.

So now I am on the brink of it’s release, doing some accounting, and realizing the real cost of creating - $4,095 so far, and I haven't yet mastered it, or sent it to print. Oy.

This Kickstarter fundraiser is a way to pre-sell the album to my fans, and is a way to hopefully pay myself back for the cost of this album. One can always hope.

The cover of "Indelible"

As I reflect on the cost of creation, I now feel guilty for all of those albums that I have gotten for free by downloading them from my friends… and all the other things I have felt entitled to receive for free… And yet, I know that without that access I would not have nearly as much appreciation for all of the amazing artists that have entered my ears and heart. I feel like I am inspired to try to give back to these artists in some way now that I am “living the dream.” And yet, I don’t really have the money at this point in my life. I will pledge to make contributions to them when I am able to make a reasonable living at this music lifestyle. I'm starting a list. If you think you need to be on it, please let me know :-).

And so, with that, I am asking for support.

I would love to give you my music for free because I want you to hear it, and enjoy the experience that it gives you.

And I also want to continue to be able to make music for you, and for the world which requires that I make money. There has got to be a way to make these two ideas work together.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Exciting projects underway!

Since I’ve been back from my European tour, I have been in the Amber Lee and the Anomalies Dream Factory:

Working on the 2011 Accordion Babes Album and Pin-up Calendar submission including mixing a song for the Album, and doing a photoshoot, working on new art for the album cover, tshirts, and merchandise. And last but not least, recording a new track for my upcoming album.

The first order of business was to finish mixing the song “Alpha.” I co-wrote this song with Devra Wolf. She and I originally met through West Coast Songwriters, but continued to foster our friendship in Jai Josefs' Saturday Songshop where we co-wrote two songs. They’re both “hits,” but I thought Alpha would be a fun one for the calendar.

You can get a preview and listen to it on my website here.

The next thing I had to do was to fly up to Seattle to work with the extremely talented Michael Doucette, for another successful photoshoot. It was a long and grueling day that made me appreciate the skills of modeling. Wearing uncomfortable clothes, sitting in weird positions, being out in the elements… and the 12 hour day!

But, we got amazing pictures!

See these:

The photo for the 2011 Accordion Babes Calendar

In a Dream

Lights, Camera, Sit really still!

Glamour on the Balustrade

The 2011 Accordion Babes Album and Pin-up Calendar will be offiically released on Saturday August 21st at the Cotati Accordion Festival! Renee de la Prade, the originator, has big plans to make a special feature at the festival which will include a Babes processional and The Hubbub Club!

Meanwhile, I have been making plans for releasing my next album. I have a tiny bit more tracking to do, then some final editing, mixing and mastering! I’m also working on the cover design and all of the associated merchandise that I will be offering on my upcoming tours! In addition, I have been learning about how independent artist are using new internet based fundraising tools to pay for recording, and printing their albums. I am excited to see all of the successful campaigns that indie artists are running! Expect to hear more about my plans to fund the release of my next album, soon!

Nothing like time alone in a foreign country to jump-start the creative juices! I wrote a song that I knew had to make it onto this upcoming album. So I squeaked it in with some help from Jesse Wickman and two other ubiquitous Santa Rosa musicians, Henry Nagel and Paul Hoffman! It has a distinctive old-time Rock-N-Roll flavor that I'm really excited about! Most of the songs on the album I have been performing for at least 6 months to 2 years, but this one is brand-spanking-new! You’ll have to just wait until you see me, or get the album to hear it!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Last Stop: Barcelona

So the last stop on my 4 week tour was Barcelona.

A beautiful, cosmopolitan, Spanish city!

Luckily, I got a gig, and found a couch to surf!

While I was in Ireland, I asked my hosts, the Henry Girls if they knew anyone in Barcelona. They put me in touch with Anna Morely – a very talented Australian vibraphone player who has been living in Barcelona for quite some time. Anna set up a show at club called “Bar Fantastico.” They host intimate shows in the lounge, and Dominick, the owner, really believes in supporting touring independent musicians. Anna also plays with an Irish ukulele player named Ciara – so we had a nice female musician connection and learned a couple songs to play together. I will be posting a youtube video of our collaboration. Our gig was well attended and the crowd was kept very quiet while we were playing.

Anna and Ciara

Bar Fantastico

I spent many days in Barcelona soaking in the architecture. I went to see the two “must see” Gaudi monuments – La Sagrada Familia, and Park Guell – they were both much more deep and rich and complex than I could begin to absorb. I also enjoyed the charming Gothic quarter. And I saw some of the more recently developed cosmopolitan areas, too. The architect in me had always wanted to visit Barcelona, so it was wonderful to finally have that dream come true. Though, there was too much to see, so I am going to have to return.

veiw of Barcelona from one of La Sagrada Familia's spires

Park Guell


I have finally officially surfed my first couch through Couchsurfers. Al-berto was my host – he lives in a comfy flat with two cats, and it was so nice to be his guest for 3 days. Al was a great host; he made me dinner, and invited me to tag along with him and his friend Sylvia. We had a lot to talk about, and it was great seeing the city through a local’s eyes. Although Al is fluent in English, he and his friends often spoke Catalan while I was with them – I realized how different it is than Spanish!

My last three nights were spent at the Kabul Hostel. It made me very glad that I found homey, free places to stay with friends almost my entire trip! I am much more interested in playing music, and connecting with other musicians and locals than being a tourist.

One thing I found really lovely in Barcelona was the community bicycle program! My Couchsurfing host, Al, let me use his pass and explained how it works. People in the city pay an annual subscription fee (I think it’s only 30 Euro a year,) and then they check out a bike at an automated kiosk at one of the many “Bicing” stations around the city. Users get to ride one bike for free for 30 minutes at a time. Then the bike should be checked into another Bicing station or an extended ride fee is charged to the user. It was so fun to ride around the city, and get to use one of their cute bikes!

Barcelona's Progressive "Bicing" program!

I have been thinking a lot about how this is just the beginning of creating my European fan base – I will need to return to make this trip worth all the effort. If I don’t go back and continue to play in the communities that I connected with, I will never reap the benefit of all the seeds I have sewn. So I’m already starting to think about next year.

and so the adventure continues....

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Too much to see in Rome

Well they say ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, and there is no way one can see Rome in a week.

I ended up in Rome sort of by accident. I have always wanted to see this ancient city, but the primary goal of this 4 week trip has been to play music, and be on tour.

Unfortunately Rome does not seem to have a very thriving local, independent music scene – there are too many tourists, and too many ancient monuments. But I was given an offer to stay for free at a nice quiet apartment just outside of Rome, a short Metro ride into the city center. And the flights to and from Rome are much more affordable than those to and from Florence and other Italian destinations. My host has been Daniele Mutino, who played accordion for the How to Survive the Apocalypse musical that my friend Mark Nichols helped write and produce in San Francisco last fall. Daniele has been away for work almost this entire week, so I’ve had the place to myself.

Luckily the apartment is close to a Metro station, and luckily I have had an internet connection. Both have allowed me to take advantage of my situation. I have decided to be a tourist this week – and I used Couchsurfing to make some new friends!

Piazza Navona in the Rain

The Colosseum

My first full day in Rome was spent walking around aimlessly taking in the sites – It was unseasonably wet – the rainclouds and umbrella covered tourists gave everything and unusual mood. But it was refreshing – and I later realized much less crowded because of the rain. As my week carried on – more and more tourists seemed to be swarming the hot, dirty streets, and I often preferred sitting quietly in the cool apartment, or in a church. It has given me some time to reflect and start a couple of new songs.

Piazza del Popolo

Rome has probably 1,000 churches – almost all Catholic, and over decorated with fancy granite, marble, gold, paintings and relics. I wasn’t raised Catholic, and after seeing the ostentatious display of wealth in this cities’ churches, I am glad that I have never been a part of that religion. As amazing as St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is, I don’t feel any emotional connection with Catholicism. Though it’s hard not to be impressed with the vast and ornate space; it did make me feel like a puny little ant in this world – along with all the other camera-clicking puny ants… but I think the Grand Canyon can do that, too.

Saint Peter's Basilica swarming with tourists

all those intersecting vaults....

Bronze statue of Hercules in the Vatican Museum

My two new Couchsurfing friends are Luca and Armando. Each has graciously spent time with me telling me their perspectives on this city. Luca is a freelance comedy writer for Italian television. And Armando is a musician and film editor. Both have confirmed to me that the local artists’ scene is small in Rome. But they’ve had good senses of humor about it.

I had thought of busking on the street, and making a little money – Daniele is the vice-president of the street performer’s alliance here in Rome and gave me some tips. But it seemed that most of the people I have seen performing are glorified beggers, and pop-sensation imitators – like the fake Michael Jackson in Piazza del Popolo. I didn’t feel like my music would be appreciated or understood, except for when I met Fergus, the songwriter from Scotland, who I watched and made friends with in Piazza Saint Maria Trastevere. I enjoyed his songwriting, and his one-man-band drum kit rig! But I still didn’t’ feel like pushing myself – it has been nice to have a week to relax a little. And take too many pictures.

Fergus the street performer

I did go see the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museum – and it was impressive, but I enjoyed looking at the Raphael paintings and the ancient Greek sculptures the most. The art and archeological pieces collected by the Vatican are an impressive collection!

And the archeological sites that crop out at every turn in this city! It’s hard not to stumble on history here. But it’s also interesting for this California Girl to imagine how hard it must be to build new buildings here. And to wonder how people can have a sense of the future in a city so obsessed with it’s past!

the Temple of Vesta right in the middle of the city.

I’m really looking forward to Barcelona. I’ve been hearing great things about it, and I have a gig booked for Sunday June 13th at Bar Fantastico with Anna Morely. It sounds like there is a thriving music and artists’ scene there, and I’m looking forward to connecting with other musicians! And I’ve found a Couchsurfer to stay with for a few days!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Life in Germany

Traveling to Germany has been very interesting because I am so unfamiliar with the language; and I have been staying out in the country with my new friend Christian Lutz. I knew I could trust him because he’s an old friend of Uni and her Ukelele, and has traveled a lot in the United States. I have been very lucky to have him as my tour guide, host and translator.

Chris lives in his family’s old farmhouse in a small village (apx. 800 people) named Hergolshausen, which is in the Franconian part of Bavaria, near Schweinfurt, which is near Wurzburg. The compound consists of a semi-modernized house, a big barn, a storage garage, an unoccupied house, and a large courtyard. It is the oldest farm in the village, and right next to the church.

My first gig was at The Standard in Wurzburg on Thursday night. But before the gig, Chris took me to see the large fort/castle on the hilltop overlooking the city. What a view! The hip college aged crowd at The Standard generously tipped me, and I enjoyed meeting the owner, Hari, and a few other musicians that frequent the club.

Festung Mariehenberg in Wurzburg

Amber with Hari of The Standard

Friday was my designated day to go to Klingenthal on the Czech border and see the Weltmeister Factory. We got the factory just in time for a short tour; it was Friday and they closed at noon. I found the room where they put together the bass mechanism the most interesting. Looking at the racks of pins and levers and buttons – trying to figure out how they all go together… it was a mesmerizing puzzle. Then Chris and I took a little trip over to the next town where there was a museum of musical instruments. There were instruments of all sorts – from violins, to tubas, to clarinets and accordions, guitars, pianos, autoharps and fun old music boxes with classic German marches and waltzes.

We were even able to put a coin in one and watch it work!

making bass mechanisms

Chris standing next to the largest accordion in the world!

My second gig was at Café Vondran on Saturday night in Schweinfurt, which is more of an industrial town and where Chris works at the SKF factory. The gracious and funny manager, Bernd, had lived in the San Francisco area for almost 20 years – so we had a lot to talk about! I also met a group of women who work at the Army base in Schweinfurt. I learned that there are 20,000 Americans living on the base in that area – so it was pretty easy to communicate – everyone understood English.

Sunday night Chris took me into Bamburg to crash a Jam Session at a club and play a few songs – it actually went really well… I was surprised! The players were all guys jamming out on classic-rock style music. I decided to be brazen and went up on stage between songs and took the mic. The drummer and bas player tried to follow along… Luckily I sold some CDs.

Monday was another tourist day for me. Bernd, the manager at Café Vondran, acted as my tour guide and took me to see Rothenberg ob der Tauber which is a medieval walled city with Tudor style buildings and a museum of torture devices that made my stomach queasy. But it was overall a very charming and wonderful city with lots of cutesy shops.

Bernd being my tour guide


One of the biggest lessons I’ve been learning in Germany, is about language. Luckily Chris and his nieces have been humorously and patiently helping me learn words. I’ve also been eating some amazing food, and it’s a good thing that I am eating meat – there are lots of tasty sausages and cold-cuts with nuts, and eggs, and flavorful, decorative items to choose from. And the baked goods… yum! I definitely like Germany; it’s very clean, well organized, and sensible. The people I have encountered are very generous, have great senses of humor, and have pride in their culture.