The Story of Sechelt

The story of the song; “Sechelt” is an interesting one. It goes as far back as to when we were at the Kidney farm recording our second release; “The Farm EP”. We were actually only there in part to record the five songs that would become “The Farm EP”. We were also arranging a whole new set of tunes for the band, one of which is a composition by Michael and Felicity called; “Of The Waves”. At the time we were, at least loosely toying with the theme of incorporating imagery about the ocean and rolling waves in our music. We had been listening to the music of Steve Reich and some of the arrangements and improvisations we were creating were influenced by his writing. Specifically, the way he layers textures so that you don’t even hear the different instruments anymore, just one organic sound. This was something we were trying to explore at that time. This theme was suggested in the dynamic swells in “Of The Waves”, and I believe continues to play a part in how the four of us approach our material.

Once “The Farm EP” was released, we did a bunch of touring in Ontario, playing that music for people and the first little bit of the tune that would become “Sechelt” had begun taking shape. It was this little passage of 3 parallel chords, Bb add 9/D, Cadd 9/E, Dadd9/F#. It reminded me of Joni Mitchell and was a nice little thing to sound check on guitar while I was getting used to the venue we’d be playing at that night. I continued to work on the tune over the course of the summer of ’09 and finally completed the music on a train to Montreal, cutting and pasting sections of a recording on my computer until the form was just right. I began to work on some words but I was having trouble getting something I was happy with.

When I got back from my trip from Montreal I received an email from Dave Clark (Woodchopper’s Association, Woodshed Orchestra). He was just saying thanks for the copy of the farm ep that we had given him and he maintained that he’d found it to be a worthwhile, and inspiring second effort from the group. Dave (being the hyper-creative individual he is), said that while listening to the ep he was daydreaming about Joni Mitchell and jotted down some lyrics, he said “feel free to use them”. So here I was with this song that needed lyrics, a song that had been inspired by Joni, and Dave had written some words inspired by Joni as well. So I decided to spend a few minutes to see if it could work. Well, it did. I had to adapt the words and take some liberties so it would work with the melody, but in a lot of ways it seemed like Dave and I had been co-writing a song and we didn’t even know it.

The other curious thing was all the imagery about the ocean and waves that are contained in Dave’s lyrics. It seems that those ideas that we were working on at the farm were not lost on a listener as attuned as Dave Clark. I read somewhere once that Joni used to tune her guitar to the sound of the ocean. The song is named after Joni’s current home in Sechelt, British Columbia, and is featured on the most recent hobson’s choice recording.

waves swell up and then they crash back down
one upon the next there gathers a sound
that i now hear as well

deep down under the oh so blue
i can hear your heartbeat
as I’m calling to you with my soul laid bare
through blue memories of the years they’ve passed and gone
now I’m calling on out to you

upon a rock i look and see you there in the middle of the surf
with your soul laid bare for me to see as well
through blue memories of the years they’ve passed and gone
and I’m calling on out to you
and I’m calling on out to you
and I’m calling on out to you

the form you figured with each vocal line
sculpted and burnished transcended time
and now i call to you

through blue memories of the years they’ve passed and gone


Guitar as cheater instrument?

A friend of mine has a funny saying that guitar is a cheater instrument, because as long as you can play movable chords and melodies in an easy key, you don’t really need to know what the notes are in a more difficult key, you just move the fingering over and voila!

This is true to some extent and I think the fact that parallel sounds are easy to achieve on guitar is a valuable guitar-ism. Some great guitar music is based on this idea. However, if you want to achieve mastery over the music that you play, it’s important that you have a thorough technical knowledge of your instrument as well. After-all, you want to play something however guitaristic or not, because you chose to, not because you were limited to it.

A teacher once told me that he liked to think of practicing in all keys as “evening the keys”. The concept is basically that you want to be as equally comfortable in the “harder” keys (ie; Gb) as you are in the “easy” keys( ie; C.)

Lately I’ve extended the analogy by trying to imagine that I’m sanding down a table top and there are bumps that represent the things that I’m good at in a particular key, and there’s also crevasses that are things that I’m not so good at. So I’m sanding down this table top to make it smooth and even so that there’s no key that I’m particularly weaker or stronger at. The thing about a good table top is; it’s gonna get a lot of use. So I try to make a regular habit of sanding it down again to make it nice and smooth.

I think about this analogy in relation to both the study of the materials of music, and the study of all the notes on the fret-board. It is important for me, not only to master the muscle memory of patterns and shapes on the guitar, but also to know in a heartbeat what notes I’m playing and how they relate to the context of my music.

Here are some simple exersizes you can use to better your knowledge of the fret-board;

1. Choose note names at random and play every single instance of that note on the guitar. Some pitches have 4 different places on the fret-board multiplied by 2-4 octaves of the pitch as well.

2. Play scales up and down one string, slowly with a metronome while saying the pitches out loud. This is particularily hard when you descend in keys with lots of accidentals.

Open strings are our friends.
Another idiosyncratic aspect of the guitar, like any stringed instrument, is the unique timbre of the open strings. The combination of open and fretted notes is one of the more interesting textures you can achieve on the instrument.
When combining open strings with fretted notes to generate voicings, unlike movable chord voicings that involve only fretted notes, it is usually not possible to transpose them to different keys. But even if you’re only going to be able to play a voicing in one key, it’s worthwhile exploring, as it can give that key some distinct personality.
Counter to the idea of evening the keys, open strings can help set the keys apart on the guitar.

If the guitar was a video game, these voicings would be your special moves.

Here are some examples of interesting open stringed voicings; (from lowest to highest string, X meaning a string muted.)

Bb 6/9 #11- in fifth position Bb- X- open D- C-F- open E.
Eb Maj9 #11- in fifth pos. X-Eb- open D- open G- F- A.
E Maj7 b5- in third pos. open E-X-G#-Bb-D#-open E.
C# Min add9- in fourth pos. G#-C#-X- C#- D#-open E.
A Maj9- in fifth pos. X- open A-G#-C#-open B- open E.
A Minmaj9- in fifth pos. X-open A- G#-C- open B- B.
FMin11- (without root) fourth pos. X-X-Ab-open G- F-Bb.
F Min 6/9 add 14- first pos. F-C-open D- open G- F- X.

CMaj9 eighth pos. C-E-open D-open G- open B- C. (this one is funny ‘cause it’s your basic open G chord fingering moved up to the eight fret.)
CMaj13 #11- third pos. G-C-F#-open G-open B-A.

One easy way to transpose open voicings on the guitar is to use a capo. I like to use a capo because it creates an effect when playing open stringed voicings, that your playing a higher tuned instrument. Even simple “campfire chords” sound surprising and unusual when capoed higher up the neck.

Open tunings man!
A colorful singer I know in Toronto was once biking towards me while I was walking down Bloor street. Upon noticing my guitar case in hand he exclaimed; “Open tunings man!”
Maybe you had to be there…..

Lately I’ve experimented with alternate tunings that only deviate from standard tuning slightly, like tuning the A string down to a G or the G string down to an F#. This makes different open stringed voicings possible while still retaining your knowledge of the other 4 or 5 strings, that you’ve left in their standard tuning. In general, alternate tunings are a great tool for writing guitar music because you tend to make many exciting discoveries quickly when exploring the unfamiliar tuning.

The most obvious example is the celebrated “drop D tuning”, that is just as popular in classical and folk music, as it is in heavy metal and rock.

Try these tunings for fun; (from lowest to highest string)

drop D- D-A-D-G-B-E
double drop D- D-A-D-G-B-D
drop F# E-A-D-F#-B-E
drop G- E-G-D-G-B-E
dadgad- D-A-D-G-A-D                                                                                                                                                                                           drop C- C-G-D-G-B-E

Check out these guitarists for great uses of alternate tunings; Joni Mitchell, Don Ross, Andy Mckee, and Nick Drake.


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