When I have the spare time, I find one of the most useful brainstorming projects I can do is to write music for my novels. So far, in every book I’ve written, music plays a very important part. The first dealt with music as a power, as magic. One of the main characters weaves all her magic through songs and music, as opposed to other more traditional practices. The character, Tasha, is by and large one of the most trustworthy and “good” characters in the whole tale, I think, and her music has a lot to do with it. Music is disciplined, mysterious, and powerful, and she wields that responsibility well.

This time around is a little different. Magic in The Aldersgate is extremely watered down. The world has suffered, and is lost. Magic is believed, for the most part, to be myth. However, as the world begins to change quite rapidly, a few people begin to feel odd stirrings inside of them. Emry Roy is one of those people. Though trained classically as a bard, he’s never had training in magic because, well, barding is simply believed to be a discipline of academics and talent, and nothing that has to do with what they call seidcraft.

But what happens when your talents become your curses? As Emry travels through the story, he learns that his abilities do not come without consequences. He discovers just what terror the wrong (or right) chord can wreak, especially if weilded by unknowing hands.

This piece of music was written last night to accompany the podcast that introduces much of Emry’s plight. I use bits and pieces of it throughout, but I wanted to provide it in its entirety for you if you so wish. I’m pleased with the outcome so far, but am far from a trained musician–I write by ear, you see. My abilities to read music are limited to one line at a time.

Emry’s Theme – mp3

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I’ve been attempting to Twitter some of the day, but I’m admittedly a very crappy texter. I blame the pink Razr, which, though it lulled me into its metallic embrace with its shiny exterior, is really a very cruddy phone when it comes to anything but making and answering phone calls.

We were very late arrivals to D*C, and when we finally got there, I was extremely disappointed to see that the one panel I wanted to go to was switched out. I was admonished since I had not looked at TODAY’s Daily Dragon–which would have been nearly impossible in the car (see comment about crappy phone). So, missed that.

However, there is happiness to be had as I was able to talk to Ms. Finn Von Claret of Abney Park, who was charming and lovely in spite of the late night/early morning (she also has an etsy store, so check that out). I picked up the new CD, a sticker, and of course a set of pilot wings (because, aye, I’m a sky pirate at heart, too). I got her and Captain Robert’s autographs, and then got to people watching.

I admit to you I’m a con virgin. But this was awesome. I just went dressed as myself which, in normal company, tends to run toward the slightly eccentric. But I definitely felt quite… boring, I should say. Some of the most amazing costumes. I didn’t have the camera in tow, so there’s no way to show you some of the costumes, alas, but I promise you, it’s amazing.

Next was the Gonzo film fest, opening with Paul and Storm (who if you haven’t heard, you should–so go listen, huh?). Geek rock meets comedy in perfectly harmonized bliss. Except when the sound guys messed it up. But, hey, that’s showbiz.

Tomorrow morning starts early, and I get a chance to interview Tobias Buckell, thanks to the awesomeness that is Matt Staggs. That’s in just a few hours, really–so I dearly need to prepare for that.

I’ll check in again soon!

I knew, from having heard their two songs, “Sioux City, South Dakota” and “House of Cards” that, musically, I had only marvelous things to say about Lemming Malloy. They set the bar very high for themselves with those two tantalizing little songs on their site, and so I admit, I was expecting a good deal from them at their debut show. Is that fair? I don’t know. I just figured, if someone takes the time to create a modded steampunk keytar, the music should be as cared for, too.

And I was not disappointed, not in the least.

From the second they stepped on the stage I knew that this was something different. This was something unique, lovely, and wonderful. The first opening chords of “House of Cards” were even more electrifying than in the recording, the voices of Mr. Cartwright and Ms. Spitzer melting together to pure audial happiness. I was bopping and dancing and singing along, riding on a current of energy, excitement, and steampunk musical goodness.

As the set progressed, the band never lost momentum. In fact, they seemed to be having a good time. Can I tell you how refreshing it is to watch a band perform that actually looks like they’re enjoying themselves rather than being moody, dark, and over performative? Goggles and Marvelons, suspenders and headlamps, the steampunk aesthetic is certainly a part of the magic–but really, it’s the smiles, the winks, the conversations with the audience that made Lemming Malloy’s performance at the Local 506 in Chapel Hill so amazing. I was totally engrossed in the songs, including those I knew and those I didn’t–I was so excited to see “Don’t Act Like Prey” and “Brother Rabbit” on the EP because I was totally wowed by them both (not to mention all the other songs I wish I had right NOW).

The Curse... of Greyface!

The Curse... of Greyface!

This is, of course, not to mention “The Curse… of Greyface” (ellipses are mine). Such fun!

The camaraderie and band banter was second to none, and I honestly can’t remember having this much fun at a concert since my son was born. Even better, it’s a local band that really, truly, rocks. Even my husband, who isn’t exactly a steampunk aesthete himself, was completely blown away and truly impressed by the band’s tight, happy, clever set.

The EP is also quite lovely to look at; it folds out into a poster, and includes all of the lyrics (which show you just how much craft Mr. Cartwright puts into the words he uses–footnotes and everything!).

I give the show five out of five gears!

Visit Lemming Malloy here.

Buy the EP!

Every book has its own song. You can’t always hear it, but it’s there. Sure, it isn’t the kind of song that you can play on your iPod, but any story has its own melodies and harmonies, moments of dissonance, and at last, resolve.

Before our words were written, they were sung. This served not only to make the telling more beautiful, but also more memorable. Words are much more easily committed to memory with the inclusion of music. Sometimes when I’m in a rut writing wise, I take out my guitar (or ukulele, or keyboard) and work out melodies, then harmonies, listening for the story within the music. Sure, that sounds terribly new-age, but it’s a part of world building for me–it helps me understand what I’m doing more clearly.

Most of my world building happens while listening to music, it’s true. There are certain songs that I associate so intimately with characters (Cora, Runaway Horses, Philip Glass; the Aldersgate itself, Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings Op. 11; Sir Gawen, most of Sir Edward Elgar). I’ve had some of the greatest epiphanies simply driving in my car, listening to whatever Fine Tuning or WCPE will give me.

Stories are a force to be reckoned with. The right (or wrong) story can inspire a nation to greatness, or plunge them into a war. And most of our most beloved songs are just that: inspiring stories. From national anthems to battle cries to stadium rock outs–we seem to understand stories on another level when music is involved.

To come to my point though, music ought to be considered during your world building sessions. Even on our planet, small as it is, what is considered to be beautiful music is as varied and individual as can be. While many of us from a Western tradition puzzle at the music of the East, they puzzle back at us. So consider what your characters might like to listen to, and what sort of musical traditions have grown up in your culture. Note, too, that music has a habit for driving people to all kinds of unsavory behaviors–even Mozart was considered scandalous in his day!

My inspiration for Emry Roy, my resident bard, was a hybrid between a court bard from the Irish tradition and the folk singers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America. For a great resource, I turned to the Popular Songs in American History site which (blaring midi excluded) is a delightful window into popular music in a variety of time periods.  Some are simplistic, and seem trite to us know–but there are some incredible gems. How about this bit from the song “Eight Hours” by I.G. Blanchard (so delightfully steampunk):

From factories and workshops
In long and weary lines,
From all the sweltering forges,
And from out the sunless mines,
Wherever toil is wasting
The force of life to live
There the bent and battered armies
Come to claim what God doth give
And the blazon on the banner
Doth with hope the nation fill:

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will.

So find your musical inspiration, and flavor your world with it!

Lemming Malloy at the Local 506 in Chapel Hill

Lemming Malloy at the Local 506 in Chapel Hill

Last night I had the best time at the Lemming Malloy concert! I will be posting a follow-up, but in the meanttime there’s some Flickr pictures for you to peruse. And don’t forget to visit their site, as well, and order their EP (which is on repeat here at the Barron-Harrison household).

I got the chance to interview Jay Cartwright of the new steampunk band Lemming Malloy and talk about all things steamy, marvelous, and musical. More than just a music interview, though, Cartwright also contributes some fascinating thoughts on steampunk in general, the power of music, and individuality (and of course, steampunk keytars).

Lemming Malloy’s debut album Avalauncher takes to the skies this week! Get it here!

Jay Cartwright of Lemming Malloy

Jay Cartwright of Lemming Malloy

Nothing says steampunk like a Marvelon.

In this case, I mean the steampunk modded keytar of the same name, prominently featured on the steampunk band Lemming Malloy’s debut album Avalauncher, and lovingly created and played by frontman Jay Cartwright.

Based out of Chapel Hill, NC, Lemming Malloy is comprised of Cartwright (on the Marvelon), Wendy Spitzer (bass), Joe Mazzitelli (guitar) and Dylan Thurston (drums). Their music is infectious: a rousing concoction of peppy yet complex rhythm, thrumming Marvelon, catchy guitar riffs, and harmonies both unusual and lovely.

Cartwright’s songwriting provides both ample musical and lyrical space, creating a layered whole that satisfies the guy who’s “just here for the music” as well as the one who wants to pore over references to Foucault and F. Scott Fitzgerald. As evidenced in our interview, Cartwright demonstrates he’s a a real song-crafter, one of those who writes from an amazingly rich place.

Lemming Malloy is a welcome and eclectic addition to the music scene here in NC, and certainly a wonderful new voice for steampunk adherents and dabblers alike.

You owe it to yourself to visit their website, snatch up the album, and take the next airship to audial bliss.

Natania Barron: So, first things first. Who is Lemming Malloy?
Jay Cartwright: We culled the band name from a favorite children’s novel of mine about forest creatures overrun by a cadre of animal Commies.  Also, many believe that lemmings run in mobs off cliffs to their deaths in an act of fatal conformance.  In actuality, this belief has root in legend and was only captured on film once–by a documentary crew who used trick photography to get the shot they wanted.

Avalauncher

Avalauncher

The metaphor is that as much as the establishment wants you to believe that lemmings are a mob-ruled conformist species, we all know that ultimately we cannot let them trick us into believing that this is true!  The same goes for our own species: HUMANS!  All of the above seemed to capture our feelings about the interaction between the group and the individual, the weak and the strong, and authority and the populace.

NB: What’s the background on some of your musical compatriots?
JC: Wendy, Dylan and I all met at UNC Chapel Hill.  Dylan and Wendy were both music performance majors.  Their background contributes to the tightness and ambitiousness of their playing.  The three of us played in the defunct Eyes to Space.  Joe was a supportive fan of Eyes to Space, and his recent project Invasion opened for us a number of times.  From many conversations with him at shows, it became clear we were quite musically aligned, and from watching Invasion, it was clear he could play!  When we formed Lemming Malloy, he was an obvious choice.  Wendy is currently heading her own project Felix Obelix, which also features Dylan and I, and she plays in the all-girl-skronk trio Gates of Beauty.

NB: Steampunk certainly extends well beyond the borders of your sound alone. Your costumes, your personas, your instruments–the Marvelon! Tell me all about the Marvelon.
JC: For most, steampunk is a genre born in literature.  My primary exposure to steampunk instead was through reading about the efforts of steampunk modders online who were re-fashioning their laptops and CPUs to seem as though they were steam-powered.  I played a keytar in my last band but smashed it to pieces at our final show.  I knew I wanted to make another one, and since steampunk was on my brain, I fashioned my new keytar to look Victorian.  Actually, technically I suppose it’s more Edwardian.  Our bassist Wendy nicknamed it the The Marvelon, and I thought that name was hysterical. (more…)

Yes, it’s been a bare week here at the Aldersgate Cycle. But no fear! Writing has been happening, interviews have been happening, such exciting fantastic things have been happening! It’s not for lack of ideas, just for lack of time.

Because she is so awesome, you can read another wonderful (and hysterical) article by Catherynne M. Valente on How SF Prepared Me for the FUTURE. I also worked myself last night, after reading her post from yesterday, and tried to see how many words I could type in 45 minutes of uninterrupted writing (gave myself a deadline, see how I did that?). The answer? 2,122. I don’t have any excuses for lagging behind in the writing, that’s for sure.

Want to listen to some steampunk music? Check out Lemming Malloy; they’re local to me, here in NC, and their album is debuting next week. I’m also interviewing them, so look for that early next week! I’m horribly addicted to the two songs on their MySpace page right now, and spent my morning dancing along to their infectious melodies (and the Marvelon!).

Anyway… that’s it for the moment. I’m off to pillage the local thrift store and the Home Depot. If I’m going to the Lemming Malloy concert, after all, I’m going to need something to wear. I just needed an excuse.

… oh. And just as I post this, here’s a great post that Paul Jessup just put up, too, about being a great writer and devouring your subject. You should read that, too. Thanks, Paul.