Dave, who is the Ragin’ Contagion? And why? It’s clear that this CD was created by you during the lockdown. What does the album mean to you, and do you care to take us track by track through the CD?
Thank you, Joe, yes, thank you for the opportunity! When the lockdown kicked in March of 2020 due to covid 19, all of us were left with a lot of extra time on our hands, weren’t we? My personal path since I played bass in Fox Pass (1975-1977) and with The Rubies (with Wally Jay in 1978, aka Wally Baier of the Road Apples), led me to college in Berkeley California. While there I played acoustic guitar recreationally, and bass briefly in a surf music band known as Two Peters and a Dick. Many years later, 2015-ish here I am, with a family and two kids, and playing my Martin guitar once in a while to maintain my sanity. My youngest was leaving home for college, leaving me time, and a desire to get back into music. And I even remember the moment. The movie Hunger Games came out, and there is a brilliant song at the end by Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars called Safe and Sound. And I thought, “I want to play that guitar part.” So I started practicing my guitar daily for an hour or more. In 2016 I started playing open mics in Baltimore and Bel Air. Baltimore and surrounding areas have a very active music scene. Teavolve in Fells Point was a real hotbed of acoustic musical activity, led by Rob Hinkal who was the master open mic host and leader of the band ilyAIMY. He also was a rich source of inspiration for me. As I got more comfortable playing out, playing fingerstyle and other guitar techniques, I started collaborating with other artists. I played bass with a local songwriter and guitarist Derrick Credito, and I started to get my writing juices flowing again. A song here, a song there. I even had a minor hit in the Baltimore area called Alternative Facts inspired by Kellyanne Conway. The song was recorded and can be found on my youtube channel.
Now, back to your questions. So the lockdown came, and I thought about all the songs I had penned over the years and realized that I had enough material for a full CD, and I now had the time to pull it all together. It was a confusing time, wasn’t it? Some people were pissed about the lockdown, calling our governor Lockdown Larry (Hogan). Others were concerned about this unknown disease and taking all the precautions, and pissed at those who refused to take the pandemic seriously. And I was thinking about the rage. And the confusion and the contagion. And I was thinking about Hamlet talking to Yorick (don’t ask me why on that one, lol). And so the project jelled around me as The Ragin’ Contagion and the cartoon me talking to a virus particle as Hamlet spoke to Yorick’s skull. My daughter Mia created the graphic and did the lettering for the album. Steve Levin provided the colorful backgrounds artwork.
Let’s talk about the tracks:
I wanted a song that reflected best the body of music on the CD to lead off, the lead song being so important to an album. This one I selected because it had a nice riff, was me singing, and Rob Hinkal told me it was dope. It had an interesting lead break, kind of electronic and ambient. The break is only 8 bars long on the CD, but in performances, I elaborate considerably. The song itself was written on my 21st birthday and reflected my anxiety about finding myself laid off and without a job after enjoying a secure position with pay. It was a couple of months later when I joined Fox Pass. I rediscovered the song in 2018 and finished its development so it might see the light of day.
Nice lighthearted pop, this song is sung beautifully by soprano Elena Gray who I met through Rob Hinkal at a Teavolve open mic. Check out her high harmonies: so sweet! The song itself was born in the early days of the lockdown when my daughter Mia was a senior in college, getting ready to graduate. Mia is an organized person, and her apartment near the University of Maryland campus was supposed to be secure until July, at which time she had another apartment lined up and a job to work. Well, March 2020 came. College classes became all virtual. The graduation ceremony became all virtual. And they closed her apartment building so she unexpectedly had to move back in with her parents (us). The lyrics of the song came from Mia’s frustration trying to start her life and cope, stressful for any young person in the best of times. But for her, here in the midst of the pandemic when her post-college life was turned upside down, it was much harder indeed. Still, she kept the lyrics light and fun.
I Hope You Click Send
Being a bass player at heart as I am, this song is bass-driven with a bass solo in the middle. You know how when you set up arrangements with other people, and when it is time for the event, they leave you hanging; they don’t show or they don’t reply to your messages? I hate that, don’t you? Yeah, I better not get too high on my horse unless I’ve never done this myself! Anyway, instead of letting the song get all whiney, I made it a fun affair about love interests in dog parks, karaoke bars, and Trader Joe’s, yet to be consummated with lots of pop culture references incorporated.
Pure radio playing pop, this one! The lyrics for Only You were written by Bianca Sky. Bianca is also an accomplished singer, but she was unable to sing for the CD due to the miles between us and other commitments. At the time when I was in high gear working on the album, I met alto Carolyn Wilson who was available to sing the song on the album. She did a brilliant job singing this one, as well as two other songs on the CD. I also want to shout out to Mr. Curt for his wonderful keyboard work on Only You.
Advise and Resent
This song is an instrumental EDM/progressive rock offering from me. EDM is a direction I have been cultivating for a little while now, inspired by such artists as Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, and Lanz and Speer. I had a great time with the lead guitar work, and I was happy with how it developed.
I know politics has always been about metaphorically bloodying up your political opponent instead of just arguing on the merits of the ideas. But it seems to have gotten particularly ugly in the past few years with the metaphor sometimes leaking into reality.
Careful With That Sax, Jeanine
Another instrumental, this one. The synthesizer work was inspired by the old Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd song “Careful With That Axe, Eugene.” I almost ended up playing synthesizer-sampled saxophone on the song, but then I was able to engage Chris Spagnolo to play saxophones. A brilliant job he did and captured perfectly what I was hoping for: a domestic violence episode.
You’re Not My Enemy
A real rocker! Our politics. Our political leaders practice divide and conquer far too often. Why do we let them?
This song is a rap, choral piece that could only be pulled off by someone like Carolyn Wilson who co-wrote the song. It pokes a little fun at conspiracy types! Very fun and danceable!
Elena Gray and I had a couple of paying gigs together lined up for significant money when the lockdown came. And when the lockdown came, the gigs vanished. But we penned and recorded this song together remotely using Dropbox. Elena, who wrote the lyrics, melody, and sang the track says about the song: Perspicacious is a song about the discordance between the self as the self perceives it and with the image others see. How even when one’s worldview has crumbled, the world itself stays on to be lived in.
Pure radio playing pop, another one! I knew I had a good one here when I saddled up to the bar one night after playing and overheard the bartender singing Runnin’ Runnin’ to herself. I wrote the song when MeToo and TimesUp was a major news item. How does it feel when you realize you’ve been a jerk sometimes and suddenly shunned by people you care about, like what happened to Al Franken?
Everybody Has A Story
Ah, the title song, and perhaps my personal favorite on the CD. This was the last song I wrote, and I wasn’t even sure it would make the album. Mr. Curt and I exchange ideas and songs together sometimes. And when I presented this song to him for a quick listen, he replied with a (paraphrasing) “here it is, this is your title song. It pulls all the other songs together perfectly.” I took his advice and made it the last song, the best song, and the title song, on the CD. Carolyn sang brilliantly on this one, and Thillman Benham filled out the sound with a beautiful crescendoing cello string section.