Six Good Things; Six Good Strings

IMG_4622Here we are in the Ides of March; I don’t know how we got here so fast, but I do know that as winter moves toward spring, clocks and times they are a-changin’! And unlike the foreboding that is associated with the Ides, I see good things on the environmental horizon as evidenced by some recent shifts.

First thing: the Providence Bag Ban passed its first hearing with no opposition, and is set for its second hearing this week. This ban penalizes use of single use shopping bags and also fines you for buying paper ones. It’s all about changing people’s behaviors. Imagine! If the bag ban becomes the law, future signs of spring may no longer have to include the sight of plastic bags popping out from under the snowmelt. That would really be springing forward in the right direction!

The second thing moving in the right direction, and powerfully, is the resistance to Trump’s and Zinke’s The National OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) Oil and Gas Leasing Program. Here in Providence, a powerful citizen action led by Climate Action Rhode Island‘s Justin Boyan and the Climate Disobedience Center‘s Tim DeChristopher popped up in the center of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s recent pro-drilling “science-fair” event to hold its own “People’s Hearing Against Offshore Drilling”! Scientists, activists, artists, poets, a nun, school children and retirees took their turns and delivered informative and impassioned pleas to keep the oil in the ground. They are joined nationally by 227 members of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators who signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. The signatures represent legislators from 17 coastal states who oppose the draft oil and gas leasing program.

The third thing is the Zero Waste Movement, and as you may know, I am a contestant on the YouTube show “100 Days to Zero Waste,” created by RISD media student Tara Gupta. I’m into my fourth week already, and as I get more deeply involved in it, I find more and more people who are trying it, blogging about it and making products for this conscientious lifestyle. All this leads back to item 1 – the bag ban – turns out the ordinance was crafted with input from the citizens group Zero Waste Providence and the city’s Office of Sustainability. Clean Water Action was also involved in the process.

The fourth thing is the opening of the bulk grocery store Hope & Thyme, owned by Bryan Rinebolt and Chrissy Teck.  To be able to go to this little gem of a grocery store and not be overwhelmed by endless aisles and screaming packaging is a very grounding experience. In the couple weeks since it opened I have noticed the number of customers increase.  Slow grocery shopping and slow foods are catching on and there is potential in that shift for big impact in the world. With each person who sees how ridiculous it is to use a material that lasts forever to hold a snack that lasts a couple minutes comes hope. Hope that the era of rampant single-use plastics is coming to an end before the oceans are completely trashed.

The fifth thing is a new store called Impact Everything, owned by Lanna Nawa and Saroj Bhandari.

Together they opened this little emporium of goods from around the world on Thayer Street. Everything you can purchase there contributes to 12 different causes, including the environment, education, animal welfare and ending human trafficking. It all started out when Nawa and Bhandari raised money to help rebuild a village in Nepal following an earthquake in 2015.  They have been involved in social enterprise ever since.

The sixth thing has been around for a while here in Providence and is the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, which has helped to launch and accelerate hundreds of social enterprises. The SE Greenhouse has shared workspace at 10 Davol Square for entrepreneurs, as well as coaching and intensive programs to help them launch and run their businesses successfully. What exactly is a social enterprise?  It’s a business with an objective to achieve social and environmental impact as well as economic growth. Just like Impact Everything. And hopefully, soon, The Whale Guitar Project, which has recently become a member.

And now here’s where all these six optimistic things play together on six strings: An invitation to PVD Green Drinks! It’s a gathering where environmentally minded people meet and enjoy a drink and a presentation about a green endeavor.

Hosted by SE Greenhouse, it takes place on Thursday, March 15 at Impact Everything from 6 to 8pm. At the event, I will be presenting The Whale Guitar Project! I will tell attendees all about the guitar’s inception, its creation by RI artist-musicians William Schaff, Rachel Rosenkrantz and Gwen Forrester, its journey to date and hopes for the future – and we’ll take an action together to protect the ocean! I’ll be accompanied by two amazing guitarists, Chris Quiray a.k.a. The Solar Guy, and Jake Menendez who you can read about in the profiles below!

These monthly events are made possible in partnership with: Cleantech Open NortheastecoRI environmental newsNECEC Institute and The Slater Technology Fund.

Jake Menendez is an amazing young guitarist who I was introduced to by Chrissy Stewart of PVDlive. The Whale Guitar Project had been invited to The Newport Art Museum for one of their Second Saturday programs, and I called her to see if she knew of an available guitarist who might be interested in making the trek to Newport to play for kids. She recommended Jake and he was fantastic! He was completely at ease with The Whale Guitar and entertained the audience with upbeat covers, jazzy instrumentals and an improvised song about The Whale Guitar that he made up on the spot!

When we were asked to do a presentation of The Whale Guitar for PVD Green Drinks and feature a couple performers, I immediately thought of Jake. I wanted someone to perform who would bring the Green Drinks audience the same delight he brought the kids in Newport. I hope you’ll get to know him a little here in this interview and come see him play at the event!

Jen Long (Motif): How long have you been playing guitar? Can you tell me about your influences?

 Jake Menendez: I started toward the end of my senior year in high school. Throughout that following summer. I decided to pursue and study music. It’s been five years now. My style of playing is heavily blues influenced. I listen to a lot of BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King and T Bone Walker, which also led me into jazz. So my playing is jazz and blues influenced, but really I like anything that has some soul in it.

JL: Last year you played The Whale Guitar at the Newport Art Museum and I was impressed with your ability to just make up songs in the moment. Can you tell us how you go about improvising?

JM: Improvisation is one of the things I have been working on the most. When it comes to guitar playing, you really have to have a lot of scale knowledge and chord knowledge. You have to kind of have these sounds under your fingers so you can just feel it out while you’re playing. And then that really helps spur creativity when it comes to things that are less impromptu like writing lyrics or just coming up with lyrics on the spot. It also allows you to be more comfortable on your instrument and have a foundation there so you can kind of feel more at home when you’re singing and if you’re making up some lyrics.

JL: Five years isn’t that long to have progressed as much as you have. Are you very methodical? What is your practice schedule like?

JM: My method has been pretty structured and regimented. I just like learning scales, learning chords, learning the relationships that they share. Around six months into playing guitar, my friend who had already started music school pushed me along into the more theoretical aspects, like learning music theory, what notes are in a chord, and how that’s built from the scale you’re using over it. And that all started opening my eyes to the possibility of just teaching myself by learning how music works. You kind of then go and then take your own path and find your sound and find what relationships you like. And everyday you put in a little bit of time you get a little more out of each day.

JL: Do you keep a guitar journal?

JM: Yeah I do actually. For the longest time I was just doing everything mentally, but it turned out I wasn’t getting everything done in a day, and I was like what do I need to do? So I went back and rewrote a regimen. I wrote everything that I wanted to include and set a time to it; it ended up being 5 or 6 hours a day, including studying jazz and blues history. I’ve got a Joe Pass chord book and Mickey Baker’s jazz guitar book. There’s some online instructional things I’m working on and also some exercises I’ve created myself based on scales and interval playing.

JL: Do you practice every day?

JM: For the longest time I didn’t take any breaks. I did 7 days a week – I thought, “That’s the way to do it. But I started to realize, like anything else, you do need to take a rest. You don’t go to the gym seven days a week. My hand started to tighten up. I wasn’t able to play at my full capability because my hands were just so sore. So usually I do take Sundays off. Can be any day, really, but Sundays tend to be best for my work schedule.

JL: Where do you play out?

JM: Saturdays I play the Federal Tap House on Atwells Avenue from  9pm – midnight. I do covers, jazz standards, and keep it more hip to what people want to hear.  Beatles Covers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, blues. I keep learning more songs, and just learned “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, and “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5. If someone were to ask me for a song and I don’t happen to play the artist or don’t know the song, I can at least relate it to something else that’s similar — I strive to at least give them a little taste of what they were asking for.

Wednesdays starting April 4th from 6:30 to 8:30, I’ll be at Cav with my friend Alexis, a really great jazz singer and pianist. Cav’s in the jewelry district at 14 Imperial. We’re getting some promo photos done today.

JL: You also teach. How can someone get ahold of you for a gig or a lesson?

JM: Teaching is $25 hour, and I can be reached at jakemenz@gmail.com

JL: What advice do you have for new guitarists?

JM: It’s pretty awesome what you can build if you do a little every day.  Day to day scheduling of your life, just like in all things.

JL: Tell us about your guitars!

JM: I have two guitars: a Taylor GS mini Koa wood acoustic, and an electric fender Stratocaster with a maple neck. I look at them and think of how much time I spend with them, thousands of hours, and it’s a rich relationship, a meaningful connection.

JL: Do you use pedals?

JM: I don’t use many – I do have a little suitcase pedal board I made. It’s based off of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Wah, Tube Screamer, Octavix – I keep it simple, just a little flavor to give a little punch here and there.

JL: What was your first big breakthrough in playing – one of those moments when everything clicks and opens a whole new energy?

JM: The pentatonic scale! It’s related to the blues scale and it’s a simple scale for how it sits on the guitar.  It’s all about how it stacks on the neck.  Pentatonics lay out really well for your fingers. The more you look into what you’re playing into, theory wise, the more you get insight, as it’s all so heavily intertwined. It brings the building blocks of music.

My journey has lately gotten into altering chords — in the moment of playing a song being able to make these decisions as a feeling-based thing. Chords are built from scales and they are so intertwined to become almost the same thing. I’ve been altering them by diminishing and augmenting them.  It’s really cool when all the time under my fingers comes together with the theory and my fingers intuitively reach to alter them without thinking about it.

JL: Do experiment with tunings?

JM: So far I only do two tunings: standard tuning and a drop all down one fret. It’s something Stevie Ray Vaughan did and it makes strings lower and reduces the tension, so you get lower sounds and it’s easier on your hands.

JL: Pick or no pick?

JM: I do whichever suits the feel and speed of the song. I use my pick when I want to l play fast and my fingers when I need to say something. I learned that from Robin Ford, an incredible online guitar instructor. Check out Robin Ford and the Blueline tune “Start it Up” it’s a kind of a shuffle blues. Also check out “Cut me to the Bone.” He’s influenced by Django Rhinehart, and Charlie Christian – the first jazz guitar soloist, because until he plugged in his electric, acoustic guitars couldn’t keep up with the sound level of the big bands.

JL: As you know The Whale Guitar has an environmental mission. Can you share your thoughts and actions about environment stewardship with us?

JM: You’ve been inspiring me with your participation in 100 Days to Zero Waste! I’ve been realizing how far the environmental degradation dates back. By the time you even know what’s going on you’re 16 – you’re already so far into your consumerist habits.  I’ve been trying to cut back on plastic bags. And I’ve been involved with some of the good stuff happening on the West Side. Like with the pedi-cabbers, Sol Chariots – they pick up compost for everybody – they give you a bucket and some sawdust and pick it up take it to a garden on Ring Street. It’s a really beautiful place.  And it all made me aware of my food waste.

It’s good to be a part of something – I go to the garden and turn their compost tumblers and it’s just gorgeous! They grow so many different types of plants and there are creatures around, too. I like finding people who are like-minded in such a beautiful way – not looking for security and comfort – I’m looking for people to push me to grow and who inspire me.  People who come together to build a community. There are so many great people around this area, yet the world beyond can be so greed-driven and chaotic. It’s bought into a kind of isolated mass mindedness. This whole idea of being in it for yourself and dog-eat-dog.  It’s endless keeping up with the Joneses. I doesn’t have to be that way, but when we’re in that mindset we’re not even witnessing that we’re throwing trash into the ocean.

It really is a crisis. I grew up on a lake in New Jersey and the lake was more polluted every year. You could see the oil rings floating on its surface. I’m just glad to be becoming more aware and hope maybe we can all inspire others to have a breakthrough – like that moment on the guitar when you suddenly see how intertwined everything is.

I also spoke with Chris Quiray in advance of his performance. 

Jen Long: First of all, thank you for your interest in playing The Whale Guitar!  I have to say that you are one of the guitarists most excited about playing the guitar that I have ever met! Can you tell a little about how you heard about our project and why you are so excited about playing it?

Chris Quiray: Everything about the Whale Guitar excites me.  It brings together my passions: music & environmentalism, and I love the allusion to Melville.  I first heard of the Whale Guitar when Roz Raskin played it a few years back, thanks to social media.  As an instrumental guitarist, the Whale Guitar called to me. I’m very much looking forward to exploring it.

JL: It’s always been a dream for The Whale Guitar Project to highlight guitarists who have a shared alignment and commitment to the environment, especially the ocean.  I have to say I think you are one of the champions of this dream, because not only are you an amazing guitarist, we met at a Climate Action RI meeting and you are The Solar Guy!  You have your own solar company and that is in total alignment with our project’s mission because the move away from fossil fuels helps the ocean in so many vital ways! We’ll talk about that in a minute, but first let’s talk about your guitar playing! I looked you up on YouTube and saw you play “Tachycardia” and “Self-indulgence” and I have to agree with your commenter phillyfanjd7 who wrote: “Excuse me while I pick up the pieces of mind because it was just blown!”

Please tell us about your style of playing – there is a lot of precision and also a lot of heart. I’m amazed by all the harmonics and the way you play notes way up on the neck.  Who are your influences, teachers, when did you start playing guitar? How did you master such a fluid and precise technique? Is your practice a daily discipline? Did you have any breakthrough moments in the learning process that you would like to share? What got you through discouraging moments? Tell us about your guitar(S) and favorite pedals if you use them. I know this can be an obsession!

CQ: Thank you for that.  My father was a musician and passed that gift onto me, along with teaching me the basics and many insights along the way.  Otherwise, I am self-taught and have discovered myself repeatedly through music. Influences range across a wide spectrum and while I write guitar instrumentals I also perform in groups as both a rhythm and lead guitarist. As to how I write and play the instrumentals, there is a certain amount of inspiration but mostly it’s a lot of experimenting and then practice, practice, practice. Music is my sanctuary and that’s led to many hours of playing, practicing, and exploring.  Most breakthrough moments I’ve had came while exploring. It takes a level of conviction to get through discouraging moments and I’ve found that having support from community does make a difference, but ultimately it comes down to inner resolve. Personally, it’s not a sexy breakthrough, but what I would share is that if the art you’re creating is important to you, then you have to be willing to put in the required work.  It’s going to involve some struggle, but that’s key to growth. My go-to guitars are my Martin GPC acoustic/electric, my customized SX Telecaster style electric and my 1967 Fender Jazzmaster. I keep it simple on pedals (for now) and will use this forum to tell all the young rockers out there to buy a noise suppressor!

JL: Tell us a little about your band Back Rhodes – I also saw Back Rhodes won the Cat Country 98 Hometown Throwdown a year ago – to an ecstatic crowd! Congratulations!  Also the NE Country Music Award. I also see you have a banjo and fiddle and a kind of suitcase drum, and I really am loving the sound you all make together. How would you describe your sound? How long have you been playing together? Where/when can people catch your next shows? Any words on the RI music scene?

CQ: Thank you! Back Rhodes has been an absolute blast to be part of.  We’re an energetic mix of country & rock with hints of folk and bluegrass.  I’ve been with the group just over 2 years now, and they started back 5 years or so.  I can’t say enough about how fantastic the local following and support is. Best fans a band could ask for and it’s allowed us to sort of dominate competition type events, leading to some incredible opportunities.  RI always has great music venues and a lot of undiscovered talent. Upcoming Back Rhodes shows can be found at www.backrhodesband.com

JL: The Back Rhodes song Champion Spot is a sweet little love song about the Ocean State, and I like to think that that affection for Rhode Island is part of how you came into a solar energy career. You know – a way to protect this little treasure. And so this is where I’d love to hear how you got into solar energy and became The Solar Guy. And what are some of your own personal Champion Spots!

CQ: You are correct that I have a deep affection for my home state of Rhode Island.  My start in the solar industry was actually in Massachusetts, which is one of the best states in the country for solar incentives.  I worked both in sales and then as a site coordinator for a major and local company, respectively, before creating my own path as The Solar Guy. It was the passing of solar legislation in RI that allowed me to move my focus to the Ocean State. My current Champion Spot that comes to mind is the area of pristine forest in Burrillville that is currently being threatened by a fracked gas power plant, as well as the Port of Providence where we are facing an LNG facility.

JL: We met at a Climate Action RI meeting a couple month ago. Please tell us about your commitment to environmental groups and campaigns you have been involved in – noLNG in Burrilville perhaps?  I have seen an article you wrote – do you write regularly about solar industry and environmental topics?

CQ: I was raised with an awareness of our impact on the planet and I believe it has been a major guiding factor in my journey. My parents had a bit of hippie in them. I was the kid with the spelt bread. I had a college internship in environmental, health & safety. We were able to win a competition and eliminate Styrofoam cups from the workplace. My love for nature and the environment has only grown and working in renewable energy for the last few years has been a blessing in that it woke a sleeping giant within.  I’ve been active in the opposition to the power plant proposed in Burrillville, and have spoken out against this and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects in the area. I have been writing more and more and producing content related to solar energy and environmental issues.

JL: From your perspective as a solar professional, and also someone in the music world, what is one thing people can do that would most improve the environment in the Ocean State?

CQ: Well my obvious answer is to go solar, if it makes sense for you.  It’s a simple way to have a significant positive measurable impact and has other benefits as well.  If you want to improve the environment, being vocal and being present with your message is so crucial and then finding a way to turn that message into actions that yield the desired results. Whether that’s fighting for green-legislation, advocating for renewable energy, cutting down on waste or signing up for an Earth Day clean-up, it’s about having a goal and taking action.

JL: Who is your dream guitarist for playing The Whale Guitar?  If there was anyone in the world who you would be most stoked to play it, who would that be?

CQ: Excellent question. Ideally it would be a musician that has the platform and following to spread the message and make an impact. My first choice would be Chad Stokes of Dispatch, because he has a history of using his music to affect change and it would make sense for him to play the Whale Guitar. And then he would invite me to play along. Everyone wins.

 

 

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