Don Rosler

11th Annual Concept Album Nominee

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Record Label: Fingers Crossed Records

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Home Base: New York City

Genre: At least a four-genre circus.

Categories Entered: Concept Album

Work Submitted: Don Rosler: Rosler’s Recording Booth

Artists Featured: Spottiswoode, Jeremy Sisto, Terry Radigan, John Margolis, Tam Lin, Isabel Keating, Tamara Hey, Kathena Bryant (of The Hippy Nuts), Jon Albrink & myself, Rosler. With special shout-outs to Emily Bindiger, Dave Eggar, Jim Gately, Gary Schreiner and Peter Valentine, among many other wonderful musicians all over the album.

Label: Fingers Crossed Records

Who are your influences? Frank Sinatra is a good place to start (especially his recordings up until the mid-sixties). He comes to mind not just due to his performances, but because he also covered so many of the great American Songbook writers. In that genre, I have a particular affection, on the lyric end, for Yip Harburg. Also huge Hoagy Carmichael fan. On the theatrical side of the tracks (which often crosses over with the group of writers above): Lerner & Loewe, Frank Loesser, Kurt Weill, Rogers & Hart/Hammerstein. Hopping around a bit: The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Randy Newman, Bjork, Willie Nelson, Eva Cassidy, Prince, Alison Krauss, The Chieftains, Massive Attack, Nye Heron, Portishead, Chopin, Louis Armstrong, Nino Rota, Aaron Copland, Bobby McFerrin, Stephen Foster, Scott Joplin, Elmer Bernstein, Ray Charles, Bob Telson, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Peggy Lee, Leonard Cohen, Puccini, Bach, the Muppets, Verdi, sports & talk radio.

Describe your nominated work. Rosler’s Recording Booth is a concept album of 16 original songs, with some segues and sound design elements. The set-up is a bit theatrical in that there’s a repertory company of sorts with different artists and characters. I used Wilcox-Gay Recordios and Voice-o-Graph recordings as a springboard for inspiring the concept. These were records made in a coin-operated arcade-type booth (like a photo booth), popular in the 40s-60s. There was a Voice-o-Graph record hanging around my childhood home for many years, made by my Grandpa Abe  & older brothers Mike and Dave when they were crammed into a recording booth at the Jolly Roger’s arcade on Long Island. When I finally heard that Voice-o-Graph of them singing, and then years later a Kitchen Sister’s report on NPR called ‘War and Separation,’ where they played Recordios exchanged amongst separated lovers and families, I was fascinated by what was spoken and what wasn’t. I wrote these songs with some of these audio missives rolling around in my head, while also trying to figure out what artists might be perfect for the various characters/storytelling. While I didn’t let these old recordings dictate all of the characters or themes, they often, along with my ideas for the arrangement landscape, created some intriguing parameters.

Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording? Yeah, the segues and sound design, described above. I collected many Recordios/Voice-o-Graphs from all of the country. Also I expanded my concept to include some other forms of audio missives such as one from a beloved Mets-obsessed sports talk show caller (Doris From Rego Park) or my brother-in-law’s answering machine message announcing the birth of his first child. We sometimes used these recordings within a composition, not just as seques… a few became key elements of the music. Instrumentally, Joshua Camp made good use of the mellotron, but otherwise the various instruments we used were fairly traditional.

Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned? Well, there were a few songs I initially meant to sing but fired myself (I took the news well)!…. I never had a desire to be a performing songwriter in the past but a big part of my concept was to have a range of voices, characters & textures in the recording booth…so I realized because of that very concept, I should be one or two of those quirky characters and croak out a few songs myself.

Re: “Everything Go As Planned”: Yes, everything went as planned, that is, after we messed up the original plans time and time again, and then planned to fix it!

How did you raise the funds for this project? How long do you expect it will take to recoup your out-of-pocket recording expenses? We scrimped and saved, used a bunch of post-dated checks (followed up by a lot of “could you wait another week to cash it?” requests), some bartering, some borrowing. Love the automatic coin counter at TDF bank! I was lucky to have a few commissions at the time, including working on the Bobby McFerrin 2010 Grammy nominated album, VOCAbuLarieS as a lyricist for 3 compositions and some royalties, etc. We got to a certain point, close to mixing/mastering, but then things came to a grinding halt due to health and personal problems. When I picked myself up and dusted myself off, the saving grace was involving my wife, Bernadette Quigley, and my friend Derek O’Connor as co-producers. Bernadette was deeply involved, and helped kick the Booth through the goal line. We used kickstarter to raise the rest of the funds to help mix/master & manufacture. We’re forever grateful to every single backer, micro-producer and a couple amazing angels who came on board: Sally Jacobs Baker and Elaine Rosler.

Why did you choose to submit this work to The 11th IMAs? I wanted to prove to myself I could meet some kind of submission deadline (after being late on my taxes for about 20 years). And, I listened to previous nominees, saw the list of judges, and felt it would be an honor to be among such fine company.

What’s your definition of success and how will you know when you’ve achieved it? Working at something you love all or most of the time, understanding that still, there’s plenty of drudgery involved as well. Working for myself and staying open to building up my own musical universe or serving other artists or projects that are challenging, musically and/or lyrically.

How will you leverage your IMA honors to achieve your career goals? I’m not sure yet. I’m up for suggestions.

Who’s sitting in your audience and what makes your fans unique? It was only recently, when my song “Doris from Rego Park” became popular on NPR and received attention from The New York Times, that I started to realize I would actually have to sing/perform my own songs. I’ve only performed it and a few other songs of mine a number of times recently and whoever was sitting in that audience was unique.

Who are your musical heroes & influences? I used to love to hear my older brother Mike practice continually, especially early on when he was younger, and played with those old “Music Minus One” dixieland/swing records. He was the first in my family to actually have success being an artist/professional musician. He has a cameo on the CD (as do other family members).

Are there any songs you wish you wrote and why? No, I don’t think that way. I just have huge appreciation for so many songs.

What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans? Walter Brennan. (He actually did make some albums, daggnabbit).

How do you discover new music? Do you buy music or are you content with streaming? My wife buys stuff and I listen to whatever she says is good.

How will musicians make a living if fans continue to expect music to be free? Not sure. Maybe things will come full circle for awhile, kind of like how martinis made a big comeback about 15 years back?

Finish this sentence: The music industry is…something that I pretend to understand.

What do you have in the works for the upcoming year? I’m hoping Rosler’s Recording Booth is a calling card for a musical.  I’m in the midst of dreaming one up. And a new CD project. The concept? Top secret.

Where fans can find you and your music: