Friday, June 19, 2009

Discovery! and a Soundgarden song.

Today was my day off from work, so I decided to go downtown and get some stuff done. The first thing I did today was visit City Hall and get a street performer license. This is something I've talked about doing for a while, but haven't gotten around to. It's $100, which is a little steep if you ask me, but hopefully I can get that back in a few days if I'm diligent. Once I make a $100 we'll get one for Kimberly and Ragged Claws will be busking all over town like its our job. I guess it will be in a way. Keep a look out for some cowboy songs and melancholy folk tunes echoing through the subway or mingling with the sounds of cars and buses and electronic clicks of digital cameras. After I had my license in hand (which looked slightly craft-fairish after having laid down 100 bones for the damn thing) I felt strangely accomplished. 'I'll reward myself with a drink!' I thought. Well, I had some Canadian Club left over from last night's pizza party and went to 7 eleven for a mixer/chaser. Without thinking about the consequences I went with the iced coffee - a concoction which tastes somewhere between nesquik and yoohoo - and boy did I luck out. I should preface this by saying that I've always been a fan of Brass Monkeys (tm). The glorious mix of Old English* and orange juice (the poor man's mimosa as I like to call it) has resulted in many a great evening over the past few years - a drink to be enjoyed guilt-free (albeit shame-free) and a bit of class and refinement for the classless and unrefined. Well, my fellow brownbaggers and old style connossieurs, there is a new bum cocktail to rival the brass monkey and bring joy to those with refined tastes and shallow wallets. I give you the 'White Corsican' or the poor man's white russian. Go forth and be merry.
White Corsican:
2 1/2 shots Blended Whiskey
12 ounces of 7 eleven iced coffee (mocha flavor is preferred, but feel free to experiment with French Vanilla)

notes:It's preferred that you grab a spare cup and tuck it under the iced coffee at the time of purchase. when you find a secluded spot to sit and mix discreetly, poor the whiskey into the empty cup and transfer the contents from the other cup into the whiskey cup. This makes for a more homogenous mixture and thus ensures that your White Corsican will be good to the last drop.

Black Hole Sun.mp3

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ragged Claws Daytrotter session

Check out our Daytrotter session that posted today. We're pretty pumped about it. Click Here! If you don't know, Daytrotter is a recording studio that has a music blog. There's tons of awesome recordings for free and they're all recorded live at the Daytrotter studio in Rock Island, IL. Personally I think the bonnie 'prince' billy session contains some of his best recordings. Download our songs (almost all of which we haven't recorded before) and then check out the rest of the site.

p.s. if you wandered over here for the first time be sure to download our free e.p. on Common Cloud Records right here: The Sleepwalker e.p.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Benefit Show this Friday, May 29th

This Friday we've got a benefit show we're playing at the Oasis in Grayslake, IL (151 N. Hawley St). We're playing as well as our friends Venna, Zach Petrini and the Broken Bones among others. There's art and jazz music going on at 4:00 p.m. so come by and peruse some art and meet some people. There are certain things in life that are simply too important for my usual bumbling irreverence. While the irony and the lack of meaning that seems to flow through much of the indie scene (like an air pocket swimming lethally through the blood stream) is great for a Saturday night it is often difficult to do something overtly serious and meaningful in the presence of such overwhelming light-heartedness (and its so coooool!). Haiti has been a kind of obsession for me ever since I went there in the summer of '06. I've taught music mainly at the Dessaix Baptiste School of music in Jacmel Haiti and a little bit at the Saint Trinity School in Port Au Prince. Haiti has not made me into an open hearted optimist, but somewhat of an embittered realist. I believe that the problems facing this country (compounded by a 200 year history of marginilization and injustice) are unimaginable to most people. Having spent a fair amount of time there, the depth of the problems there and the reality of their effects continue to move me and challenge my ways of thinking. That being said, the music schools that I've worked with are rays of light in a really dark place. Amidst all of the difficulties present in the lives of the students, they are given the opportunity to discover their artistic inclinations and their capability to create something beautiful. I won't delve too deep into my beleifs about music and the expansion of ones perception of beauty, but I assure you that I think music is incomparably powerful and yet understand its limitations. The School in Jacmel feeds a need that is less tangible than the social and economic needs of Haiti, but one that is nonetheless deprived and hungry. The call of the spirit, the endless pursuit of beauty that we in our country can mingle with and call upon as we wish (at least more easily). Kimberly and I are going there in July to work with Jean Marie, an artist who lives just outside Jacmel, and we'll be teaching at the School there. More on that as the time approaches. In the meantime, please come over to the Oasis this Friday. You'll be glad you came.


p.s. It kinda sucks that I feel like we need to post music now to get you to read this. Is this true? Either way, here's another composition of mine. It's called Wood and Stone. It's kind of like a remix or something of the hymn "Great is thy Faithfulness." Musings on my religious education and the persistence of certain images and ideas throughout so many strange times. Lindsey Crabb is playing Cello and Megan Karls is Playing Violin.

wood and stone.mp3

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Song: Down there by the train

We're back from New York. We had a real good time hanging out in Brooklyn. We spent some time catching up with friends and comparing Brooklyn to Logan Square. I said its too scummy, Kimberly enjoyed the scum. I think that's kind of why we're friends. Anyhow I figured I'd upload this song. It's another song recorded into the little mic on my laptop. Tom Waits recorded this song on his Orphans album and my former roommate Dylan showed it to me once. It's one of those very few songs that is so great and wonderful that I can listen to it over and over and it doesn't seem any less incredible. The image is one of this train takin' everyone to heaven and all the vagabonds (all the low-lifes from the drug-fiends and the whores to Judas Iscariot and John Wilkes Booth) know the one place where the train goes slow and they can all jump aboard. Guilt has always been a theme in my life having grown up in a christian household and dealing with a wide range of Christian people having a hand in my education. I didn't realize how much that feeling can still linger until I found myself listening to this song and getting choked up. (whatever, yeah okay sometimes I get choked up. so what, huh?)
Johnny Cash recorded a version of this song once and it suits him, having always been a voice for the rough-necks himself. I'm not as pretty as Scarlet Johansen, but I'm pretty sure I could drink her under the table.


Down there by the train.mp3

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Second City Risers (Off to New York)

The goal of this coming month was to go out on tour. This has been a bit of a disappointment as we attempted our first trek across the eastern seaboard and were unable to bring it all together. Nonetheless, we stand undaunted and will be taking a short vacation/trip to New York to play a show with two colleagues of mine. We're playing at the Stain Bar in Brooklyn with He Can Jog and Bryan Teoh and plan to do a little recording for a day or two with these dudes as well.

I met Erik Schoster and Bryan Teoh back at Lawrence University and the two of these guys introduced me to electronic music. I've dipped in and out of the world myself, and the great computer crash of '06 brought an abrubt end to anything I was hoping to accomplish with it. Looking back on it and seeing what these guys are doing now, I couldn't have had a better introduction into the whole world of computer music. I've recently stepped back from almost everything digital and/or electronic (though for better or worse I've been known to indulge in loops and gadgets in the past). This is not to say that I'm an acoustic purist or anything like that. I came to the realization that if I was to do anything really monumental with computers I would need a kind of dedication (obsession?) that I really wasn't capable of (needless to say I felt the same way about jazz). Bryan gave me a bunch of software only some of which I was able to make any sense of. He also made a beat to a Braille cover of Smashing Pumpkin's perfect. He was on the verge of world-wide superstardom with his 8 bit Betty among other things. Now he's started channeling his computer skills/aeshtetics into video art. Erik (aka He Can Jog) can turn endless lines of code toss in some discarded scratches and blips of tape hiss and create something that is musical and personal. Here's a track of his that I've always liked. It's minimal, raw, and it moves me. Do yourself a favor and download the albums he's got up for free. Do the world a favor and purchase his latest album. See you when we get back.


09 michael frederick rathbun (nuevamente llego el invierno, y es dificil regresar del sur...).mp3

P.S. I don't want to leave Kimberly Hanging. My opinions regarding feminism and music are continually shaping and folding in on themselves and therefore my contributions to the discussion are usually questions. Specifically the question about the correct male response to these issues. I'm not sure what the correct response is (beyond being mindful and resisting ambivalence), though I put forth evidence that at the very best displays the awkwardness the often accompanies male musicians trying to be pro-feminist and at the very worst reinforces the stereotypes that perpetuate the problem. I give you the newly married Mrs. Ben Lee.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


speaking of the wild west, a lot of things have been making me mad lately. actually, the wild west doesn't make me that mad. it's the time and place where lawlessness allowed relative freedom and power for women-- along with the unfettered exploitation of women of course. like bad ass calamity jane on deadwood, or belle star. but yeah, actually, the unfettered exploitation and objectification, medicalization and capitalisation of women's bodies in the late nineteenth century does make me mad...a lot of things, man. specifically, "rock and roll"* has been making me mad lately. or rather the spectre of the phallus which pervades it. i am serious.

today i read about marnie stern's kissing booth, which reminded me of going to see marnie stern back in october. let me explain for a moment in case you are not familiar: marnie stern is the sickest, baddest, most rocking guitarist i have seen in a very long time. the only word is disgusting. she is also very pretty, but mostly just badass all yelling and sweating and shredding. in any case, at this concert in october, in between songs some douche bag yelled out "you're a babe!", which despite being true is beside the point. i couldn't help myself, and yelled "fuck you dude! you're a sick guitarist marnie!". my point being that one should not have to be a pretty woman to be a good musician, and one should not be admired for looking nice while playing, but rather for playing well. or incredibly disgusting, as the case may be. there is this amazing musician in front of you and you want to tell her how hot she is? really?

but then it struck me: what if a room full of mesmerized hipster boys (attending what is always a cockfest, on stage and in the audience), is actually the perfect (post)feminist fuck you to all those hysterical girls swooning over elvis and the beatles that made us all look so bad? so my question is: sexuality? or rather sexiness? that almost solely female space of cultural value, seen usually as objectifying and devaluing women, could its certain strategic deployment engender an appropriate and well earned power? could it be a good way to try and pay parking tickets? did that douche and those awkward fans too terrified to kiss her actually make us look better? and really, am i just a little bit jealous that she didn't have a kissing booth when i saw her play?



*except yukon ho!. yukon ho! is amazing, listen to them right now.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Song: Yukon Ho! (by: Yukon Ho!)

I've been watching a lot of HBO's Deadwood lately and it's gotten me really pumped up about the wild west. More specifically it reminds me of my own experience as a prospector. Long ago I journeyd west with a dream. Armed with the bare essentials and an unwavering eye on the prize I, along with 4 other worthy men, took to the frontier with nothing but the furious beats pounding out our each step. It wasn't gold we were looking for, but the rock wherein the gold lay hidden. 5 worthy travelers equipped with guitars, drums, and a late model moog synth, we sought our treasure out west. That is, the west side of the Fox River where the booze poured late into the evening and the unfortified walls shook with unfettered post-teen angst. The band was Yukon Ho! and the music we made is fast becoming a forgotten dream. I occasionally get snippets of melodies in my head as I play and can't seem to place them. Then as if Jip the squirrel is reading my mind from outside my window, he begins to tap furiously on the wood of the porch and I'm swept up in a dusty whirlwind of wild dance beats and spastic guitar strums the likes of which I'm sure I will never hear again. Here's a taste of Yukon Ho! A battle cry if you will. Should you choose to uncover more of this epic journey of old, I hear there are still remnants of this great band of adventurers laying dorment in the forgotten corners of the new frontier.


01 Yukon Ho!.mp3

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A note on Billy Idol

Who determines the meaning of a work of art? Can a long-held erroneous interpretation of a time-honored (and thoroughly scrutinized) classic hold any weight in the greater artistic field? I offer no simple answer, though I pose an example.
Years ago my friend Adam and I would hold 30 minute dance parties in one of our dorm rooms (usually his, because he had a sweet stereo). Despite having only 30 minutes to work with each week, our playlist remained pretty consistent. The Flashdance Soundtrack was a staple of our short-lived rituals, as was Billy Idol's 'Rebel Yell.' One of the tracks off this record that always interested me was 'Flesh For Fantasy.' One part in particular always caught my attention. In the pre-chorus section of the song Billy sang (at least to my ears) the following:

Face to face, about to bite
You see and feel my sex-a-tite.

I didn't think much of it. I thought it hilarious that Billy Idol made up his own word for Sexual Appetite, and was kind of disturbed by the cannabalistic overtones it provided. I even pointed this out to my friends over the past few years whenever this song happened to surface in some grocery store or my place of employment. Well, this came up in conversation once, and a skeptical friend of mine decided to look up the lyrics. The truth be told, I had been wrong all these years. Mr. Idol was actually singing;

Face to face, back to back
You see and feel my sex attack.

I was devestated to find that I had been wrong all these years. (the blow was softened by the realization that I had in fact invented the word sex-a-tite.) I immediately started criticizing the tasteless placement of 'Sex' and 'Attack' in the same line, but I think I was just bitter.

Moving on, the first line of one of our songs is "I'm the crackin' underneath your feet." The song is about King Phillip. My friend mark thought I said "I'm the Kraken underneath your feet." Do you know what a Kraken is? It's way cooler than 'crackin'. From now on I'm saying Kraken. Or not.

What have we learned? Not a whole lot.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Song: Somewhere I Have Never Travelled

this is a song i wrote for class, but i really like it. i am playing the piano, and my dear friend elizabeth hanley steiner is singing. it is set to part of an e. e. cummings poem of the same title, which is also the first line of the poem, like all his other poems. anyway, it is one of my favorites, but i especially wanted to set this one because of the subtle structural and thematic repetitions which i thought would work well for a song. it was kind of long, so i only used part of it. not very kosher of me. but the parts i took out are about flowers and snow, which in my opinion are way lamer metaphors for love than travelling. but i am not as famous as e. e. cummings so he probably knows better. anyway, it is a really sweet love poem, about one of those quiet nearly inarticulable moments of intense perception of something beautiful. hope this is a good antidote to paul's (moft goode and trewe) rant. life sucks, but some things are nice.


Somewhere I Have Never Travelled.mp3

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Demo: A Whole New Third World

I know we've skirted around the issue for a while here at the Ragged Blog, but its time to own up. The phones are ringing and everyone wants to know; where does Ragged Claws go to find inspiration? What is it that drives you? What angers you? What's your message? I'm going to keep the media guessing on the other three and focus on the third question right now. I got off work today around 5 pm and have to return for a work meeting at 10. No, no, its nothing like that. I work at a restaurant that sells soup. Soup, and nothing else. It's called the soupbox. You should stop by some time. Really, its a ton of fun.

Speaking of things that drive me to drink, I've spent the past 3 hours wandering around one of Chicago's many thinly veiled wastelands known as Lakeview East. From the last few hours, I've compiled a list of things that frustrate me. They don't just erk me, or annoy me. They strike me as evil. Not the evil that we like to block out of our heads and pretend doesn't exist. I'm talking about the evil that is so sly and swift that it creeps into our lives and convinces us that things are actually pretty great and we should look on the bright side, while it silently sucks out our souls and eventually shapes our way of life. Let me explain a little;

The Chicago Transit Authority: I only have $1.50 in my pocket and need to get to work. I'm forced to go take out money from an ATM (the cta doesn't take cards), buy something from the gas station (the cta doesn't give change) and then pay 2.25 to ride 3 miles on a train that is running late (the cta is horribly unreliable). The technology to offer unlimited passes everywhere and purchasable with a credit card was invented at least 20 years ago. The cta chooses not to use it because they make more money this way. Thanks for lookin' out, Chicago. I appreciate it.

Small Businesses that make me feel guilty: That's wonderful that you are privately owned. However, nobody's dog needs organic home-made baked goods. Sustainable living is not sustainable if it doubles the cost of something most people don't want and can't afford anyway. Finally, I think I can live a full and healthy life, having never consumed wheat grass, but thanks for the tip.

Clothing Store Parties: This is an oxymoron. Unabashed materialism and eerily soft t-shirts and jeans that cost $100 just because of some crooked/urban-ish/graffiti-esque logo are no cause for celebration. Never.

Citibank Student Loans: Citibank calls me more than any of my friends or family members. Nobody who loaned $17,000 to a college-age future-alcoholic music major should expect payment or any of my respect. $25 million dollars from tax-payers and I can't get one late-fee taken away. Have you no shame, Citigroup?

Taxing my vices: The cigarette tax has now expanded to include tobacco as well. This means that a pouch of rolling tobacco cost $4.50 yesterday at the 7eleven by my work and today it cost $8.50. I know its just cigarettes, but it elicited a deep sigh of resignation on my part as I coughed up the money.

The third world: It's there. So are all these things. [dissonance]

These are just little things, but I can't shake the feeling sometimes that I just don't meld with the city I'm living in. I don't really want to start an argument with business owners about the merits of their products or start bombing banks, so instead I channel my frustration through songs and words. It seems a little childish sometimes. Anyway, here's a little song I recorded on the little talk-back mic on my laptop. It's not as ironic as it sounds.

p.s. While I was working one day a bum walked into the soupbox and asked if I wanted to buy a homemade banjo for 3 dollars. I said yes. It was half a coconut on a stick with a bunch of wires tied to it that more or less twanged when you hit them. I don't know if he actually made it, but it seemed fated. Anyhow, that's what comes in at the end of this song. I just cranked up some phony distortion on the track.


A whole new third world.mp3

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Song: Lengthen your stride

Tomorrow (Thursday, March 26th) we are playing at the Elbo Room here in Chicago. We're playing with two violinists from Kimberly's string quartet (The Sleeping Bear Quartet). Tiffany and Emi are amazing and it's going to be pretty epic should you choose to attend. We're playing a new song for us, though its from a few years back. I wrote this while I was in Thin Cities and we played it on our last tour though never recorded it. Maybe once we record a real version of it, I'll tell the back story. It's pretty amusing and only slightly charming, but worth hearing. Anyway, I was kind of obsessed with key changes of a third (the song works its way from F to Db and then to D minor) and I wanted to write a string quartet version of the song. I added an intro and a couple transition parts and the ending changed from being a sort of dance break to a more dirge-y thing, but that's cool I guess. Yeah, so that happened and then I found myself playing with string players again and figured why not do the song with the quartet. High art (strings etc.) and low art (songs w/ dance breaks) merging to make . . . medium art (strings + dirge breaks + overly serious lyrics diluted with irony). Whatever, point is I've had this little arrangement sitting around for a while and we'll probably play it tomorrow night. Only if you come though.
Here's a recording of the string quartet version of Lengthen Your Stride. Some Lawrence University pals Amelia, Skyler, Daphne, and Lindsey are playing the strings. You can hear me sitting nervously off to the side of the stage.


01 Lengthen Your Stride.mp3

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Blog is the color of my true love's hair

So we've been working the past few months on a handful of 'covers' (I use the term loosely) of songs from different composers. A few years back while I was still at School, my composition teacher (Jennifer Fitzgerald) would give me lists of pieces to listen to that pertained more or less to whatever it was I was working on. I was looking to write a few songs (based on Emperor Norton who later became the subject of 'On the Death of an Emperor') and she burned me a cd of folk songs arranged by Luciano Berio. It had some French songs, some Italian songs, some Balkan songs and two American folk songs. The one song 'Black is the Color' was so gripping, I couldn't stop listening to it. The arrangement was for female voice, viola, and harp. The viola part was mesmerizing and the song itself was gorgeous. I later got a hold of a Joan Baez version of it but I missed that viola part too much. Fast forward about 2 years and Kimberly and I were about to do a show at Lilly's in Chicago. Before we had decided to team up for good, I had told her I had a handful of solo cello arrangements that maybe we could do together. I found my wrinkled copy of Berio's song and rewrote the part verbatim in Bass cleff. Anyhow, long story short, I handed her this peice of paper that was almost entirely black with notes and slurs and weird triplet figures and a week later heard her play it (it sounded so dark and brooding on her cello) and I knew we needed to play together. I was going to write a post discussing the strangeness in 'covering' classical music and how its okay even if its a bit irrevarent, but I guess I had forgotten how this song kind of brought us together. Here's a clip of the original version, and no that is not me singing, though I tried real hard to emulate it. The melody and the chords of the traditional song vary depending on who plays it, and the Berio version didn't really offer much direction. The chords I play on our version are just implied by the vocal melody. Also in the Berio version, the viola part is played independantly of the voice so the rhythms don't match up at all. We kind of slowed it down during the vocal parts and made it more in time with the guitar.


06 Black is the Color.mp3

Monday, March 16, 2009

Looking to the future (and frowning on the past)

So we just recorded a few tunes at the fancy shmancy studio at Columbia College in Chicago. We should have some masters of those tracks soon. We layed down our lusciously silly (and slightly self-indulgent) cover of Black Hole Sun, along with a folk song arranged by Benjamin Britten, and a new song called A whole new Third World. If anyone heard us play a song where I just sing "Oh I've got it bad" over and over again, you'll recognize it. I rewrote the words for it though. This is exciting stuff, and hopefully we'll have something to show you very soon. In the meantime check out the modernist Pop Band I was in for a few months at college. Music school does weird stuff to one's musical aesthetics. My friend Graham thought it was time that pop songs started integrating Schoenberg's twelve-tone system. This song may be proof that he was right, or that he was terribly wrong. Oh and the band was called Poop Sandwich. We only played like 3 times. That's me on the guitar.


California, Tucson, Arizona.mp3

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Song: Wendung

This is a small composition that started as a homework assignment and ended as a wedding present for Common Cloud Hype-man Eric. Did you ever get a recording of this, Eric? I can't remember. I don't know if we'll turn this into any sort of Ragged Claws song, but it might get chopped up and re-hashed somewhere along the line. I run out of ideas sometimes.



Tuesday, March 10, 2009

later, sheepishly:

at least he can take the time (and has the assertive subjectivity) to use capitals.

also paul has the virtue of avoiding excessive parenthetical remarks (something which i lack completely)

i hope everyone will enjoy my comments despite these shortcomings.

paul already pointed it out i guess, but his grammar and spelling are really bad. i just want to make sure no one judges me based on that, got it?


Song: Speak to Me

This is the first song I wrote with my nylon string guitar. It's a little classically, but it fit for the song I think. Just some reminiscing about being young and thinking I knew the secrets of the universe.


Welcome to our world.

I had two donuts for breakfast. I was unsatisfied. Maybe I needed another one I thought. I looked back at the menu and took another sip of coffee, then realized my dissatisfaction wasn't due to the quantity of donuts, or the quality. I (and my stomach) craved something other than donuts. Hell, I could have eaten all of the donuts on Fullerton Ave. and I still wouldn't have been satisfied. Maybe a croissanwich is what I wanted. Now that's preposterous I thought. The boring moments spent sitting at the laundry mat had given me the thought that I should probably have some important business to attend to. I craved productivity. The sense of a hole that makes me feel I need to prove myself by producing something, creating something is (tragically) not donut shaped. I made a blog instead. Between Kimberly and I, hopefully we can provide interesting thoughts and future plans punctuated with super underground hip lo-fi recordings of music we're working on. Maybe videos too. I promise, that my grammar, and, punctuation will GReatly improve once I tell Kimberly about this blog.