Planga-La: Music and Stuff

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I don't like to talk about myself. It's not because of any discomfort or low self-esteem, it's because I don't like demanding a person's attention. But since this site needs a biography page, and nobody else is going to write it, I'll talk about myself. And I won't use the third person.

History

I'm from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am the youngest of three children. I had a perfectly average upbringing with perfectly average disfunctionalities. Nothing special to speak of. Nothing unspecial to speak of. There is nothing interesting in my childhood worth uncovering.

In high school I fancied myself a poet, and that eventually led to some pretty weepy song lyrics. I started writing and recording songs when I was 16. I had no instruments, so I either fabricated them, reworked existing recordings, or programmed MIDI. I must have known then how bad the songs were, because I released everything under an assumed name.

During my junior year in high school, I discovered Superpickle Music Arts, an online record label of sorts run by Adam Rabin. We became friends and for several years I ran Pickle Radio, the label's online radio show (which would have been called a podcast had we been able to see into the future of names, not just the future of distribution technology).

I attended Miami University, in Oxford, in Ohio, to become a teacher. Being in college reminded me that I hate kids, so I went for the Creative Writing major instead. I didn't believe which degree I had was important, just that I had one. I chose what would be easiest for me (I am, or at least was, a good writer) and that allowed me to fill the rest of my schedule with fun (read: challenging) classes. By the middle of junior year, I had accumulated enough fun credits to add Linguistics as a second major. I also did a sequence in Cognitive Psychology and was the whizkid COBOL programmer during my stay.

I worked at the college radio station reviewing CDs and making sure strange music filled the airwaves between 2am and 8am. My reviews sought to teach my fellow students that Dave Matthews was nothing and The Residents were everything, but if anybody was convinced I never heard about it.

After college I began collecting real instruments (primarily ukuleles and guitars) and spent several years steadily writing and recording my own material. Though still using alter egos, they were more in service of the project rather than a convenient mask to hide behind. Sometimes I even put my own name on my albums.

In 2003 I moved to Hoboken, New Jersey, and have been in the New York area ever since. I joined up with the underground ukulele scene here, and sometimes play live. By the mid-2010s, my writing output had decreased significantly, but the work I put into live performance made a noticeable improvement. These days I invite audiences to lose themselves in immersive fictions for 15 minutes at a time.

Roots and Influences

I am quite unadventurous when it comes to music. I like stuff that is "out there" by the standards of most people, but I don't have the breadth of interest many music fans have. It's hard for me to get into new bands unless they are somehow related to ones I already like. It just happens that I started with some odd people, so my small area of interest appears adventurous to some.

I find most pop music atrocious. That is not to be taken to mean "pop sensibilities are far too bland for a music snob like me." I mean it hurts my brain to listen to it (probably because it's far too bland for a music snob like me). It's analogous to why I dislike walking in street festivals. It's not that I'm impatient and want people to move faster; I spend the whole time wondering doesn't it hurt your legs to walk this slowly?

I once distilled my music collection to these branches: The Beatles, The Residents, Shonen Knife, Dead Kennedys, "Weird Al" Yankovic. With few exceptions, everything in my collection can be traced back to me liking one of them.

On the other side of influences are inspirations. The Pink Floyd (with Syd Barrett, before he left and took the "The" with him) inspired me to write songs that are a little off, Neil Innes (before and after the "Doo-Dah" was taken from his band) inspired me to make fun the number one priority, and Adam Rabin (who can't afford to remove words from "Mailbox") inspired me to stop waiting for someone to offer me a record contract and just make music for myself. And of course The Residents encompass all of this in one convenient package.

Musical Style

I don't have a fixed style. I'm certainly based in some form of rock music, and I'm certain there is something about all of my work that sounds like me, but it's hard to pin that down. I once asked people to relate me to other bands, and They Might Be Giants came up most consistently. I certainly don't sound like them, but there's a certain aesthetic we seem to share.

My style varies because most of my songs are written in this way: Hey, I've never heard a song [about this subject/that sounds like that/etc]... why don't I record one now? Once, after explaining this, I was asked where I wanted to go with my music. I replied "when I want to hear a song, I can write and record it - isn't that the highest level a musician can reach?"

I think of most of my work in terms of projects or concept albums. One reason I've been so slow in releasing albums is that I've only finished a small percentage of my projects. When I have a new idea, I get very excited and set aside whatever I'm doing to focus on the new project. I plan out the song cycle, make the album art, and write and record the music. But in the frenzy of creativity (usually about three songs in), I come up with an idea for a new project, and that gets me very excited, and I set the current project aside... This cycle runs approximately forever.

Many projects have their own bands or alter egos to go with them. Public Domain Project, Jonathan Cheer, Garth Haines, Standpipe, etc. I assume these identities not to escape from myself, but to give better credibility to the different concepts. Think Ruben & The Jets or The Fireman.

How Do I Make Money?

I don't. I am fully aware that what I do is in no way commercial. My songs are not slick enough, and I'm not pretty enough. And that's okay. I like the songs, and I wrote them for me, so hooray on that.

That said, I am not above a little busking. I made $3 over four years of selling music on the original mp3.com, and I figure busking will give about the same return but for less work. Around the site you'll find links like the one below. The money goes into my PayPal account which I use pretty much exclusively to buy Residents records, so you know it's for a good cause.

Do you like Planga-La?
Chris is busking.  Drop a dollar or something in here.
Toss a buck in the case.
I dare you.