Friday, June 26, 2009

Tak for Det

Well, I've slept off the jet lag, and it's time to update you good people on the state of VK things. This trip was harder on a few levels, easier on others. But overall- the results can't be disputed.


I arrived in Copenhagen with all my goods about me since I checked NO baggage this time- I packed light, and was able to carry on everything I needed. J & A bustled in just as I was wondering where they were. J said "You were starting to get worried, weren't you?" as if no time had passed, and, remarkably, it seemed like it hadn't. We dropped A at work in Copenhagen, then headed for Vordingborg.

I told J how I've been learning Danish- I found a podcast on iTunes that gives weekly lessons in conversational Danish, so I've got a few phrases under my tongue by this point. (Such as "Tak" (Thanks), "Tak for det" (Thanks for that) and "Selv tak" (You're welcome)

J said that he needed to stop at the baker's to get a loaf of bread, and I realized it was Wednesday.

"Onsdagssnegl!", I shrieked.

J looked at me like I just threw up and asked how I knew about onsdagssnegl? As luck would have it, one of the podcasts is about Danish pastry, and one of the pastries described is the onsdaggsnegl, which is round and only made on Wednesday, or "Onsdag". (Coincidentally, they are also the size of my ass, but I am unmoved by this fact. I'm starving, and inside the bakery looking at a chocolate-iced onsdagssnegl.)
It was the best 11 kroner I've ever spent.

By the time we got to the house, I'd eaten half of it, and then I inhaled the rest of it while J made his lunch in the kitchen. I was going on hour 23 with no sleep, but I'd gotten my third wind, so we went into the studio to hear what J had been up to while I was gone. He played the tracks I hadn't heard yet, and I was...surprised? Carnal Crucifixion, which had been something akin to a dirge when I first played it for him, had become a sassy New Orleans blues number. And Find Me...let's just say, it was not what I'd anticipated.

However, as the week wore on, and I stopped talking and started listening, I realized what J was doing. The last time I'd been there I'd talked- a lot ( I know, can you imagine?), but I'd wanted to make sure he got a sense of who I was, so he'd have some frame of reference for where my songs were coming from. I needn't have worried- J was listening, even when I thought he wasn't. But he was hearing not what I said, but what the things that I said, said about ME. He listened to my lyrics and listened to my voice, and created a sound based on them, rather than the narrow,obvious sonic ideas I lobbed at him. A sound that I hadn't heard before.
The sound of VK Lynne.


I saw more of the countryside this time, maybe because it was a bit warmer, maybe because there was sunlight so much longer. I went outside and shot some video with my little Flip recorder for Sean at 11:00 pm. It looked like 8:00 LA time.

There was maybe 2 hours of relative darkness, then the sunrise, which was so beautiful, it seemed a shame to sleep through it. So I didn't.

I walked into town- ( lured mostly by more pastries) - and as I did, I was amazed at the fields of poppies. On my last trip, there had been daffodils growing wild and rampant, which were gorgeous, but as a girl who loves her red, nothing could compare to the glorious scarlet flowers waving in the breeze along every street and pathway.

A explained that when public grounds are TOO maintained, the wildflowers have no ability to re-seed. So in DK, the common lands are trimmed to a point, but then let to grow as they will and so there are fields everywhere of brilliant wildflowers.

This emphasis on the aesthetic quotient I found to be in keeping with the things I'd learned about Denmark on my last trip. Quality of life here is based on different values and principles than are often touted in the States.

However, A also told me that churches in DK will not draw more than 10-20 people on any given Sunday, even though they are officially a Protestant nation. I found this puzzling- but perhaps the church that I attend, that draws some 200 per week, does so in part BECAUSE our beliefs aren't mandated. Conscientious or contrary? I didn't know, all I knew was that the ideas in my head that had begun to develop 2 months ago, were taking a new turn. A also talked about Europe's optimism that President Obama would turn things around.

It's easy to see the US's shortcomings. Especially in a country where many of our issues seem to be irrelevant. However, I began to see our good qualities as well, and the responsibility we have to other nations to use our power and wealth wisely and thoughtfully.

As beautiful and peaceful as Scandinavia was- be it ever so humble, there's no place....


One piece of home I did manage to take with me was Joni. My dear friend Joni Nichols is the perpetrator of one of my favorite CD's of all time, and I knew it would be right up A's alley. So I burned it for her, and took it along. After dinner Thursday night, we put it on while I washed dishes and A finished some work from the day. Everyone enjoyed her, and for me, having Joni's sweet voice there, was a reminder of why I'd come in the first place.


I missed Sean more this time- maybe because this time I was familiar with the people and the place. Sean and I experience things together- that's how we've done things for 12 years now, and without him, I could only really see part of the picture, taste some of the sweets, smell a bit of the flowers, because I was missing half of me.

Particularly with A & J planning their upcoming wedding, I was aware of my uncoupled-ness all week. When I walked on the beach, or browsed the shops, or rode A's bike to the castle, I caught myself turning to the left to comment.
This trip it was clear to me- he must come along next time.


But regardless of my revelations about home & Sean, we had a record to finish, and only 5 days to do it in. One of the musical discoveries we'd made last time was that I have a much warmer lower register, so why am I shrieking everything like a harpy? This time J told me to just "sing less". Don't push so hard, just "tell the story". This led to some of the best vocals I have ever sang.

A track that we are particularly excited about is a duet with Scandinavian artist, Høgni: He recorded his 3rd record with J last summer, and since then, the first 2 singles from it have gone to #1. He was one of the first people I contacted when I was deciding to start this adventure, and he was incredibly gracious and helpful.

As we were working on a song called He Rolls, we started throwing around the idea of Høgni sharing the vocals, and I contacted him about it. Not only did he do so, but he played harmonica on the song as well. The song is like nothing I've heard; Høgni sounds like a cross between G.Love and an Indian shaman, in the best possible sense, and we trade lines in this slow burn blues jam. It's wild.

One of the things he told me was that his record with J came out nothing like he planned...and that it was a good thing. So keep an open mind.

Forget everything you know about VK Lynne

We finished just in time for me to catch the interminable plane ride back home, and now it is in J's hands to finish the mixing, supervise the mastering, and call it done.

And so we should have the CD ready to go by summer's end.

This record doesn't sound like I planned...and it's a good thing.

For everyone who has asked me what the genre is: Forget everything you know.
For everyone who thinks they've got what I'm about and where I fit: Forget everything you know.
And for everyone who thinks a sound is based on a look: Forget everything you know.

I did.:)

Redemption in the Land of the Hatchback

At this point I am back in CA and mostly re-adapted to Pacific Standard Time, and as the inquiries hang thick on the vine (from text messages, phone calls, MySpace and the ubiquitous Facebook) about how things went, it seemed about time to recount the events of last week....I've made some bad career decisions in my day. Some ill-advised choices. I've shot first, asked questions later. (And my credit cards all say "Amen".) However, this was not one of those times.

From the first time J contacted me, I said, "I'm going to Denmark. I don't know how or when, but I'm going." I had a gut feeling, one that nearly everyone thought was INSANE, which told me it was inevitable for me to travel to a country I'd never seen to work with a man I'd never met.

The folks who know me best were not really surprised- this is how I roll. They secretly planned to pick up the pieces when everything went horribly wrong, and smiled bravely as I went about getting ready to go.

But I decided this time would be different- I would not go in blind; regardless of what my instincts were saying, I knew I had to do some legwork, for Sean's sanity if nothing else, and so I did.

As it turned out, J was who he said he was- a producer with an impressive track record and work that I had heard and liked. Artists he'd worked with gave him glowing reports.

Then, we actually got in the same room and started working, and I felt a little moment of triumph- despite any mistakes I'd made in the past, this time, my instincts were NOT misguided, naive or skewed. This time- they were dead on.

The Longest Day

The first thing I noticed were the windmills- turning purposefully, they dotted the verdant land masses, separated by numerous bodies of water. The sun was just coming up over Copenhagen when we landed, and I was already delighted.

However, my delight quickly cooled when I turned on my cell phone to let Sean know I was safe, and the call wouldn't go through. We'd neglected to check that our international calling was in place, and clearly, it wasn't. I tried various dialing/country code combinations while I kept one eye on the baggage carousel. Slowly, all my attention turned to the thinning number of rollerbags on the conveyer belt- mine was conspicuous in its absence.

I waited until it was clear that my suitcase wasn't coming out, then went to the airline's customer service window, where a Scandinavian gentleman looked at me like I was a bug (or an American:) and told me to fill out a claim form. He was so dismissive I felt certain that he'd only use the form to roll a cigarette, and I began to panic. I'd been on a plane for 14 hours, I couldn't reach Sean, and now I had no clothes, toothbrush, hair dryer, nothing.

We put a lot of stock in first impressions- and I was about to meet J as a tweaking, high-strung lunatic. Dolly Parton once said that she's like an old show dog- she needs her ribbons and bows and brushes. Preach it, sister. This little pooch was certain that J would turn to a pillar of salt when approached by post-Trans Atlantic flight VK, makeup slept off and worry beginning to set in.

However, there are really only two words I can use to appropriately describe J- unsinkable and unflappable. Nothing really riles him up- so you instantly feel ridiculous getting riled up yourself. He was cheery and soothing, even though he'd been waiting for me for an hour, and let me use his iPhone to call Sean. We got into his Peugeot (Hatchback #1), and headed for his home.

As we drove, I noticed that nearly ALL the cars were hatchbacks. Later in the week, I would ask A., his fiancee, why the hatchbacks? She said that cars are very expensive in Denmark, and taxed by weight, so a hatchback offers the most storage bang for the buck. I tried to imagine us in the States- hell in Calabasas ALONE!- giving up our SUV's. Hmmm....

A. gave me most of the socio-economic information on the region that week. She herself was a pleasant bonus to the trip. A Scandinavian beauty, she was blond and blue-eyed, tall and lithe, and she spoke the way she moved- gracefully and with purpose. Everything she did seemed like a ballet step, from planting potatoes in her garden, to explaining the beauty of mathematical equations, to perching daintily on the kitchen counter with a glass of red wine. Mind-bogglingly intelligent, she seemed to know a piece of trivia about every facet of Denmark. I liked her instantly, and was thrilled to meet a woman that I could talk and relate to- I've found precious few in my lifetime.

However, it is also women like this that make me aware of my 5'3" dwarf-like stature, my pear-shaped figure, my F-laden sentences, and my quick temper. (As Storm says, "She's not ladylike...")

Whatever my shortcomings (no pun intended), however, A. didn't seem to notice them , and she set to making me feel at home and comfortable. She put together a basket of various toiletries for me, to hold me over until my luggage arrived, (which eventually did the next evening), cooked meals, and listened to my songs with a thoughtful ear. She translated for me like Annie Sullivan all week as I tried to soak in the difficult language.

However, on that first night, when I sank into bed, all I knew was I missed Sean. I ran up the stairs to use the bathroom, and as if I needed another challenge, discovered I needed to rummage around under their sink for a tampon.

The 9-hour time difference and the overnight flight had made Sunday and Monday all seem like one day- and it would take me until Wednesday to get my shit together.....

'That's why I'm me, and you're you'

I won't go too deeply into J's process; I guess part of me feels protective of his hermit-like status. He's a Brit living, not only in Denmark, but on a remote estate, outside of the small town of Vordingborg, that affords him privacy, a forest, and a short walk through it to the beach. Not to mention a thatched roof and a wood burning furnace- but then again, the house was built several hundred years ago. On my walks down to 'the sea' as they called it, there was such isolation I could sing full voice along with my iPod and disturb no one. J works when he wants to. Naps on the beach when he wants to. And manages to crank out the music hits that afford him this life.

However, once you see him in action, it's clear how that is possible. J has forgotten more music than I know, and he has the heart of an artist, not a technician. Years ago, he was a much celebrated artist in DK, but now he prefers his relative anonymity behind the board. He plays guitar,bass, drums and piano, and does all with a witty barb and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.:)

But most importantly, he listens. I mean REALLY listens. He understood and appreciated the lyrics to my songs instantly, and gave them the attention they so desperately needed. We put down 9 of my songs and one of his. And there was much rejoicing:)

Many times J would suggest things that I'd been thinking, but couldn't put into words. He announced, "That's why I'm ME and you're YOU!" Then A. would come in and listen to what we'd done. She was planning my imminent move to Copenhagen by week's end, and working out how Sean could break into the film scene in DK.

Fri os Fra det Onde

I realized that I talked about Sean non-stop. But A. enjoyed hearing about him, and told me about her friend, Jens ,who was in a movie that just premiered in March in Scandinavia. It was getting rave reviews, and she told me the plot line and how it was a victory for Jens because not only was he the lead, he was the villain- which was unusual for him. As she finished her story, her iPhone rang, and it was Jens, inviting us to see the movie with him and some friends the next night. A. was afraid she'd spoiled it for me, since she'd given away the ending, but I was grateful, because the whole thing was in Danish (no subtitles).

We went to the movie, which was very arty and very dark (the trailer is on YouTube under 'Fri os Fra det Onde') and then went back to Jens' house. Now I was surrounded by Danes who knew some English, but were VERY shy to speak it. I would have welcomed their broken English, but alas, A. spent the night translating again. Jens gave us a ride back to J's, and on the way asked me about Hollywood. I was intrigued to discover that Jens made his living solely as an actor- he worked in films and plays, but also, because taxes in DK are so high, the government subsidizes the arts; they place a premium on quality art, and so folks can live, however modestly, as artists.

Which speaks to the overall sense of DK. There is a significance placed on the happiness quotient, on the value of spending one's time the way one desires to, with family, with work, etc., and very little concern with 'the rat race' and working 25 hours a day and 'getting ahead'. There was a fluidity, a calmness, a peace to the days, that was foreign (no pun intended) to anything I'd experienced.


Friday J, A., and I piled into the car and set out for Copenhagen. It was about an hour's drive, and we planned to spend the day- see the sights, then go to Beth Hart's concert. Scotty, Beth's husband, had e-mailed Tuesday and asked if we'd like tickets, and since J had looked online and seen that they were nearly the same price as tickets for the Stones, we gladly accepted.

This was particularly significant to the majority of the people in the car, because J and I both had strong associations with Beth. She is my favorite artist, and had even come to see me play in LA, and the fact that I was even on her radar was dizzying. J had co-written and produced songs on her last 2 CD's, one of the tracks being "Learning to Live", a song which reached #1 in DK and catapulted her to star status in that country. J said that at one point, it was being played every 7 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 6 months straight.

So with the promise of a fun evening on the horizon, we set out into Copenhagen. A. told me about the Rundetarn, as we climbed the spiral walkway, and we got to the palace literally just in time to see the changing of the guard. We stopped and got the best pastry I've ever put in my mouth, and got to J's favorite, the statue of the Little Mermaid, just as it was time to head for the concert.

The venue was absurd. It was huge, with contoured interior, and they explained that it had housed this year's Danish music awards. Beth was to be acoustic, just her, her piano, and her guitar player.
The concert got off to a rocky start; for the grandeur of the place, the sound was atrocious. But Beth carried on as she does, and finished gracefully.

The audience, about 3,000 strong, cheered for more until Beth came back for an encore. She sat at her piano and said "This song paid our rent for 3 years." She began 'Learning to Live', and the crowd went wild- they cheered, they sang along, they clapped in time, and they cried. And for me, the most amazing thing was watching J watch them listen to his song.

We all fell asleep in the car on the way home, so it seemed like we'd all just drop off to bed- but J stopped and bought a bottle of red wine, and when we got in the door, he said "I'd like to listen to what we've done."
A. and I got comfortable on the studio sofa, and J brought in 3 glasses of cabernet and we just listened and unofficially recapped the week. A. said, "As soon as you're gone, I won't be able to get him out of this studio."

She toddled off to bed, J went to the kitchen for a refill, and I went to wash up and get ready for bed. But as I came back from the bathroom, I saw the glow coming from the studio, and heard my own voice. I filled my wine glass and went out to where J was nodding at the monitor. "This is good- this is really good".

We stayed up talking, and I realized that I was going to be sad to leave these folks the next day.

650 Kroner

A. hugged me twice and made sure I was in the right line to go through Passport inspection. J hugged me and led A. away, who called, "Bring Sean next time!!" as they walked out of the airport.
I made it through the flaming hoops of security, and realized I still had 650 kroner left, which I suddenly didn't want to exchange- I'd need it in June anyway:)

The flight to Seattle was 10 hours of time to think about what I'd learned on foreign soil. And I don't know if I can exactly put it into words: the way of life is different; the atmosphere is different; the values, the priorities, the whole feeling- is different. And now, these days later, back in LA, I am realizing that I'M different. However, subtly, I'm not the same person I was when I left.

Maybe not better or worse, just- different.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Christmas has come and gone. And this year brought a few surprises.

When I left Philadelphia 7 years ago, I could barely see the city in the rear view mirror for the amount of dust my wheels were kicking up- not that I was looking. In Philly, I was confined to the labels of my youth- 'theater chick', 'bagel chick' (!) and most commonly, 'Sean's girlfriend'.

I knew what and who I wanted to be, but somehow the weight of who I was in that town would never let me I had to leave. And I've never been sorry.

L.A. afforded me a new start, a clean slate, to find and shape my character. So when I decided to play a gig back in Philly this December, I didn't know if they'd like VK Lynne....because they didn't know her.

VK Lynne was born out of nights at Paladino's, The Joint and Molly Malones with Monogroove, sweating my ass of in the Woodland Hills garage studio with my first solo band, coffeehouse after coffeehouse on makeshift stages with just a guitar and a stool, drunken escapades on Sunset with a rowdy band of rockers- all these things taught me about the business, about music and about me.

The things that I've learned these years have made me VK Lynne. And I like her- but would Philly?

My husband's family, the McHugh Mafia, were out to represent in style, and my Fam Who Put the Funk in Dysfunctional came out as well. Folks I hadn't seen since high school, college standbys, and off-the-street audience members were on hand when I tuned up Ruth and took the stage.

It was a unique address mostly folks who knew the "old V", as (almost) someone they'd never met...I finally could let down the defenses I'd held onto so tightly when I lived there, and be myself. Because I finally knew who that was.

I told my stories and played my songs- and had a great time. They were a receptive and raucous audience, and the evening exceeded all expectations. They laughed, some cried, and I actually GOT PAID!:)

More than that, afterwards I spoke to people who said they were just walking by the bar and HAD to come in when they heard the music, and I was sheepishly approached by people who had overlooked me years ago, who told me how much they enjoyed the show.

The next day, Sean and I went to South Philly to have coffee with a friend, and as we walked along the Italian market, I was suddenly hit with a wave of nostalgia that felt so new, it took my breath away...I suddenly remembered all the good times we'd had in Philly: the Christmas tree we'd bought on Washington Ave from a guy who looked like Vanilla Ice back in '99, (the way we drove around until February with it in the back of Lita, my pickup:), the night we walked to Wawa to get ice cream in the snow- it had been so quiet and peaceful, we were able to walk down the middle of Catherine Street in the dark, Sean's birthday that we locked ourselves out of the apartment and had to walk to Mel D.'s in the rain to sleep on her rollout couch. The wood burning stove in the bedroom of the split-level place loved (with the roaches we hated).

I remembered the good and the bad melted away- because the bad had in so many ways been wrapped up in feeling invisible, in a town that wasn't my own.

Dec. 26th, it saw me.

It smiled.

And Dec. 27th, I smiled back.

I walked back to the car with Sean, looking at the mirrored mosaic buildings that dot the streets, and felt years of rejection lift from me. I was ready to give Philly another chance.

It had given one to me.