As a pro-drummer turned pianist/songwriter I’ve had to make some serious mental adjustments in terms of the parameters of my performance standards and have often asked myself the question: When is this thing I’ve been working on for months going to be performance ready? Isn’t the point of all this practise to share my music with the world at large [via the internet in lockdown] or live for friends and family? When, if ever, am I ready? Is this good enough to livestream? Is it good enough for an “open mic”?

As a music school graduate with many years of experience playing drums for hire on recording sessions and festival stages, often with pianists and songwriters with much more experience than I, it is easy to become discouraged and think – well, I’ll NEVER be ready! There isn’t enough time in my lifetime to bring my perfomance up to this “professional level standard” on a secondary instrument. Why bother?

But wait, as I take a step back and look at the content released daily to the internet via social media, all of a sudden the playing field seems a little more level. Many people are releasing content with terrible audio, poor pitch, not great meter and seem to be oblivious to the fact that even bare minimum “professional” performance standards I was taught in college are not met.

So the question becomes, do I have the guts to just put it out there? Imperfections and all. Accept that this is where I’m at right now and I might as well share it. The internet will accomodate all levels, all styles, all audiences and ultimately doesn’t care what content goes out. There’s no “vetting process” to remove poor performances from Instagram, FB and Youtube. In this scenario its a complete free for all. Let your voice be heard! Perhaps the cream will still rise to the top…

My goal with this blog entry is to write without editing my ideas so it is not concerned with grammar. Just like improvising live. I tend to overthink some elements of art and life, and this is the antidote to that and may contain anecdotes…

So the idea for this blog came to me as I was practising Hanon exercise number 4 in the key of B major this morning. It crossed my mind that there is a slippery slope and a paradox to all technical practise on a musical instrument. The goal of practising may vary drastically from person to person. I found myself wondering “why am I practising this, wow, I’m getting better, this is easier than yesterday, hmmm, it still feels awkward though, this is a tricky key, maybe trickier than F#, why is it called chops? oh yeah early jazz trumpet – fast and loud high notes, athleticism, “wow” factor, “cutting contest” etc. etc.

The paradox of all of these thoughts as I practised was that they often distracted me from the experience of the practice itself and more than once resulted in mistakes in the excercise. Hence the “slippery slope” is sometimes thought itself. Don’t I enjoy practising to get out of my head? Isn’t this also why I enjoy live music performance? It’s a meditation and the best performances you feel “in the moment”. Then it is best to still the mind. Breath deeply. Relax. Experience the sound and feel of the instrument in the present moment. Bring your thoughts back to the feeling of playing.

SO… CHOPS. Facility? Makes it easier to play. Ahh another paradox. The easier it is to play what I’m practising, the less I have to think about what I’m doing. This allows me to [potentially] move into a state of muscle memory and engage the “autopilot” my fingers have developed. BUT once the autopilot is engaged one isn’t PRESENT with the instrument. The feel is gone. The purpose and intention of each note may become clouded by a wandering mind and before long boredom may set in.

What did I learn today? Be present. Be patient. Practise with purpose and feeling. Take breaks. Change up what you are practising if you find a lack of engagement with the task at hand. Observe your thoughts as in a meditation and bring your mind back to the sound and feel of the instrument and your breath and relaxation.

“[Burning Man] is a jaunty, joyous romp through the sun-scorched desert. Loved the lush layers of instrumentation, and it’s a cool arrangement starting with the chorus. You don’t often see that, and it perfectly sets up the tune. The vocals are unique–or maybe I’m just not used to hearing them. They exude a subtle charm, an ebullience and bubbliness like fruit that’s perfectly ripe, if that makes sense. Any more ripe and they’d start to lose their richness and full-bodiedness. The lyrics are a fun story, adding to the song’s surreal sensibility. Really, I can’t find anything negative to say about the song, which is kind of weird. Usually there’s something. But not here! As I listen again and again, I’ll let you know if anything strikes me. All in all, Burning Man is a nourishing serving of contemporary psychedelia. Great job!”

-Jody McCutcheon (Former CHART magazine music critic)

I sang in children’s choirs as a child and this song may have come partly out of that experience. Having said that it was probably the toughest song to write and perform. Co-producer Christian Anderson suggested using multiple vocals in unison to create a chorus/choral effect.

The lyrics came out of heavy late night discussions with my wife prompted by listening to negative news out of Washington and going to bed feeling downright negative and defeated.

I re-wrote the chorus after getting some great feedback from Allister Bradley at Song Studio Toronto who suggested the “Tell me something Positive” theme, which actually gave the song more hope from a lyrical perspective. I sincerely hope you enjoy it!

Here’s a pre-release for your enjoyment, available now for download on Bandcamp. This was one of the first songs I wrote close to a decade ago, originally with Braintoy in mind. Pink Floyd was a major influence.

My Simple Life was a game I tried to master and I learned
My simple life was better off before my bridges burned
For when I knew the only path to take was to your heart
That tragic love was doomed to tear my simple mind apart

releases December 2020

Riley O’Connor: vocals, drums, piano
Michael Schatte: guitars
Scott Kemp: bass

recorded by: Christian Anderson @ Cerebral
produced by: Riley O’Connor and Christian Anderson

My journey as a songwriter began over a decade ago. It was a transitional time in life where my original band was calling it quits. On one hand I wanted to give pro drumming 100% committment. On the other hand I wanted to say something in my own words and music where the vocabulary was coming from a different place than the drums.

The writing process was slow, at times painful, at other times exhiliarating and freeing. When I first recorded myself singing with acoustic piano, I knew I had a very long way to go. This was going to be a long-term committment to music that would take time and energy. Back then, I wanted to saying yes to every drumming gig that came along.

About 6 years later, my partner Courtney got me way out of my drum comfort zone and encouraged me to perform solo piano/vox in front of family. I started to take songwriting more seriousely. I took some piano and vocal lessons. I joined Courtney at local karaoke bars and open mics to work on performing. Most importantly, I started to believe in my own creative process to the extent that I wanted to get professionally recorded music out there and it felt worth it to put the required work in.

Listening back to final mixes of my debut album, I can’t say that I’ve yet “arrived” as an artist. That would be for someone else to say. At the very least I’m testing the waters and pushing my own boundaries. I’ve written songs in a variety of styles loosely under the rock/pop umbrella, some leaning towards roots and country, others leaning toward hard rock and prog stylings. I’m proud of my accomplishment and despite being not entirely happy with everything I’m hearing {few artists are}, I’m ready to share this music with the world. Furthermore I think there are some solid songs here!

Looking towards the future: I want to co-write. I want to collaborate with like-minded artists. I want to contribute more than a drummer might typically contribute to another artist’s album. I want to write poetic lyrics, paint images and tell compelling stories. My up-coming release is a big step forward on this journey.

cheers,

Riley

Music has always been a way of life for me, but over the past couple of years my relationship to it has changed significantly. Drums are my first instrument and always dear to my heart, but the first thing I do every day is PIANO. Whenever I’m in a vehicle alone I SING.

I wrote my first piano / vocal song close to a decade ago. My original metal band BRAINTOY had called it quits. I was at a crossroads. There was a beautiful Heintzman upright handy and I’d wait until my housemates were away before feeling my way around the keys with little idea of what I was doing or where I was going.

Fast forward to 2020 and I’ve completed my first solo album of 10 original songs – all very different – but all me. As of 2019 I’m also a married man to the amazing and supportive cinematographer Courtney O’Connor who has provided much needed encouragement and video support along the way. We have a few songs and videos released as the duo CR Extraordinaire.