!!!! NOTICE - UkeToob Moved !!!!
Once, stuck in the car with three screaming toddlers, I desperately put two empty raisin boxes on my fingers and made a puppet I called "Raisin Dog." Raisin Dog, who had a very bad French accent, was far funnier than I have ever been. The ukulele seems to inspire funny in people the way this simple puppet did for me. Maybe it's the small size, or the plucky sound, but the uke seems to pull it out of people.
One of the funniest people playing ukulele, and one of the best young song writers I have heard in years, is Danielle Anderson, who performs under the very humorous moniker, Danielle Ate The Sandwich. Behind her thick framed glasses, Danielle has the facial elasticity of a silent movie star. Fortunately for us, she is anything but silent, has a lovely voice, and writes songs that say things in a simple yet expansive way. For example, from her song On Planet Earth:
In a factory
in a small Midwestern town
there are women
manufactured by the hour
and they are sexy
and they know more about comic books than me
and when you're gone
I worry that they've found you
This lyric demonstrates the "show, don't tell" dynamic she has down so well. Or, if you still need convincing, listen to the word craft in yet another great video from her forthcoming album:
To find out more about this rising musician, we asked her the following questions:
Donnie Bubbles: More and more of your songs have been on ukulele lately. Is the uke your official instrument of choice these days, and why or why not?
Danielle Ate the Sandwich: I do love the ukulele the most! So far, it's the instrument that best compliments my songwriting style and singing voice. Aside from it being a crowd pleaser (people love tiny things), it's fun to play and easier for me to work around than the guitar. Also, it's easier for me to find the right tone or sound of a song I'm looking for on the ukulele. The chords tell stories on their own. The ukulele and I have a symbiotic relationship. I whisper, "Let's write a song about my mother's father's death" and the ukulele says back to me, "Gm-F-C."
DB: Sorry, but I have to ask about the name. Whose sandwich did you eat, and why has it left you branded as the one who ate it?
DB: Do you find, as I did with the Raisin Dog puppet, that the persona of "Danielle Ate The Sandwich" begins to take on a life of her own?
DATS: Absolutely. I am a different person when I perform and the more I do it and the more comfortable I get with myself as a singer and as a performer, the more I morph in to this character. To me, a successful performance is entertaining your audience through music and genuine emotion as well as letting them into your world through conversation and making jokes and showing who you are as a person. I want to give people a reason to watch me and to listen to me. I love to perform. I love the things that come out of me. I feel more powerful and self-assured. I feel like I have the right to be loud and obnoxious. It's silly, though, how I work as a person and as a musician. I don't really like to be around people, but I love to be in front of them. You want to see a monkey dance? Give Danielle a microphone.
DB: The name of your new album is called Things People Do, which is also who you quote as your musical influence on your web site. Can you elaborate on this? Are you amused or befuddled by the things people do?
DATS: I say my influences come from the things people do, because it's as simple and as complicated as that. I write songs about things I've seen or felt or experienced or wondered about or tried to put myself in the shoes of but never had the slightest idea how to. I think that the things people do are amusing and awful and brilliant and beautiful. One thing I've concluded about life is people do the things they do. We're monsters and madmen and we're capable of so much and usually do so little. When you think about it like that, about all of those possibilities, there are a lot of songs to be written.
DB: You have a "Coffee House" tour coming up at the end of January. Have you done many live performances? On the dates you share with other performers, will you be playing together, or one after the other?
The ukulele might be a time machine. More than any other instrument I can think of, the ukulele seems to pull players back to the early 1900's when the instrument had it's first heyday. Howlin' Hobbit is one man that has jumped through this portal and broadcasts his love of the period's music back to our time.
When you see Mr. Hobbit holding a tiny uke in his arms, you can't help but smile. This is a man with thick paws that make you think butcher more than surgeon, and you would expect him to sound more like the former than the later. But when he starts to play, picking and strumming out rags and hot jazz with speed and grace, he defies your expectations and delights your ears.
To find out more about Howlin' Hobbit and his music, we asked him the following questions:
Howlin' Hobbit: I'd always liked the music, and I played some on my guitar, especially rags and blues with the more ragtime accompaniment. When I started to get more into the ukulele (the whole story is here) was when I found that the more interesting chord progressions were lots easier than their counterparts on the guitar. Plus, I just like the sound (and portability) of the uke better. It's a win-win!
DB: As a performer, you range from solo busking to more formal shows with your band, Snake Suspenderz. In between those two, where do you derive the most satisfaction from performing?
HH: With the band, definitely. We swing way better together than I do solo. And I just like working and/or hanging out with them.
DB: Music Theory is the best, and the most frightening thing, that anyone who plays an instrument should learn. Your Cheater Theory lays out the most important concepts better than any of the many books and articles I have read on the subject. How did this project come about, and do you plan to produce more work of this type?
HH: Glad you got use out of my little screed. It mainly came about from seeing the same kind of questions reappearing regularly on the bulletin boards on the subject. And, as even your question reflects, the attitude that theory was way scary.
Yes, you can go deep into it and get pretty esoteric. Some of the real theory wonks on the boards (i.e. the guys and gals who really know what they're talking about) would do that and all around you could hear the digital world version of the subtle sound of eyeballs glazing over. I felt there was a need for something that taught the bare essentials so that you could play and talk with other musicians and all be on the same wavelength.
But it wasn't as much my work as it was just writing down various bits I'd learned from other folk and asking several more knowledgeable folk to look it over and make sure I hadn't made too many egregious errors.
As far as upcoming projects of that nature, yep. I'll be producing a somewhat smaller document listing out all the hints, cheats, and mnemonics that I use in order to understand the Circle of 5ths. It's not that scary either and once you get a reasonable grip on it all sorts of things become clearer and easier.
I'm also going to be posting a blog entry on the songwriting process I use. Maybe I'll make it into a downloadable afterwards (though it's not a lot to remember).
DB: When you were just starting out with the ukulele, was there one thing you learned, or a hurdle you crossed, where you felt like you made a huge leap in playing ability?
HH: I tend to make progress on these sort of things in a long series of small increments. I can't think of any one "Aha!" point. Maybe triplets. They can really add to an arrangement and getting them relatively smooth was a good thing.
I think the biggest hurdle is mental. The ukulele is relatively easy to learn and is unfortunately often pitched with that as its main feature. Then when someone new runs up against a chord they can't quickly get under their fingers they tend to ask on the forums for ways around it instead of just practicing until they get it.
The (insert chord name here) isn't an impossible dream. Pretty much anybody who doesn't have a health issue (bad arthritis or something like that) can master pretty much any chord. It just takes getting over the mental hurdle and resolving to practice until you get it right.
DB: I see you are appearing at the National Kazoo Day Fest in Portland at the end of the month. Are there other performances or projects you are working on for the near future?
HH: We should be releasing our new CD later this month. It's titled Serpentine (and I hope everybody who reads this buys one. Or heck, two. What a great gift!) ;-) It is currently planned for 15 or 16 songs, all but two of them originals. Some are by Thad, some are by me, and some are co-written by the both of us. You can currently hear some rough mixes on the new Snake Suspenderz MySpace page.
We've decided, heck with what the Chinese zodiac says, this is the Year of the Snake (Suspenderz). We're putting in lots of applications to festivals and starting a regular regimen of contacting other venues. Once the new CD is done we're going to continue writing songs
We're also working on getting our "tour chops" together. We'll definitely be doing something as far south as Eugene, OR, probably by late winter/early spring. We've got a partially developed plan for a regular ukulele-centric night that can also be taken on tour and more Snake Suspenderz merchandise is in the works.