Everyone’s Invited

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Stuffed with satisfying songs for people big and small, this debut album from The Offhand Band is a creative collection of catchy confections that you’ll savor for some time to come.

Cool for kids, fun for families and even great for the grown on their own, you’ll have a blast hopping with the OHB from one style to the next — pop and rock, R&B and country, old sounds and new, with even the occasional marching band thrown in. And with lyrics hosed with humor, packed with positivity and reveling in reality, you’ll find yourself singing and dancing your way toward making good things happen.

From the music to the words and whatever may be in between, with nobody talking down, you’ll be lifted up by these songs that everyone can truly appreciate and enjoy together. Tell your friends… tell your enemies… tell everyone… because whatever your shape or size, happy or sad, hopeful or mad, the OHB is having a party, and Everyone’s Invited!


Making the Album with Appreciative Inquiry and the Internal Family Systems Model

I’d wanted for a long time to create entertainment that kids and adults could enjoy together, but that would also get across some things I’ve learned that I wish I knew earlier. With both of these aspects, everyone, but especially kids, could not only have a great time with it but might also learn some things that could make a positive difference for them. The “learning” stuff, though, would mostly stay out of the way of keeping things entertaining and enjoyable in themselves. As a musician and songwriter, it seemed to make sense to start with an album of original songs.

I thought it would be great to use a couple of things I’d learned about to actually help me make the album itself. The first was Appreciative Inquiry. There’s a lot one can say about AI. It was created as a way for organizations to generate positive change, bringing life to human systems. Working with Howard Ditkoff on coaching, consulting and training company Emergent Associates, LLC, we found a lot of novel ways to apply AI, including the fact that it was great at fostering creative projects like works of art.

For nearly every project I’ve done since then, I’ve used AI, from writing songs to building websites to creating services that I’d provide, including a number of services in which I actually help other people use AI for themselves. Several months before starting work on the album, I did an AI to come up with the name of the band. Actually starting to make the album itself, I started with an AI for the project as a whole — it would be just the first of many AIs I would do for the album.

The other main thing I used was my understanding of the Internal Family Systems model of the human mind. IFS shows us how, inside, we’ve all got different parts. They each think and feel different things, and they form a sort of family inside of us. Sometimes they don’t get along, and we can end up with mixed feelings, confusion or all sorts of other difficulties. The more we get to know our parts and the more they can relate well with each other, the healthier and more satisfied we can be.

Howard and I actually learned about IFS when we started seeing some ways in which AI wasn’t working the way we thought it should. When we did AIs on ourselves or other individuals, there wasn’t always inspiration to see through the plans that were created. Sometimes, we felt just the opposite, really disliking what was coming out of the AI. Eventually, we realized there was a problem in doing AI on individuals. AIs are always done on a system, and the entire system is supposed to be present or at least represented, to make sure that every part is contributing and working together with the rest. Seeing ourselves having very mixed feelings about certain AIs, it occurred to us that maybe the whole system had never really been present in the first place when doing AIs on individuals. We talk to the person, but were we getting the whole story the AI needed? Looking into the notion of people having different parts of themselves and how some of them may not always make themselves known, we came across IFS, which shared a number of things with AI, including talking about how important it is that all parts become known and involved. AI and IFS seemed to really complement each other. Over time, I’d gotten to know a dozen of my own internal family members.

When it came time to write the album, though, I found I was having a lot of trouble starting. I was really nervous somehow. Was it because it had been so long since I’d started a project of this size, or because this was the first time I was ever making an album and looking to actually see something through from writing to sellable product?

It turned out that one part was really concerned about the project because she’d (yes, our parts can be male or female!) often felt left out of things before. That concern led her to stand in the way of the project moving forward. It occurred to me to ask her if there was something in particular she wanted the album to say. Next thing I knew, we were doing an AI to write the album’s first song: Getting Somewhere. And if you read the lyrics, you can see they have everything to do the concern about leaving nobody behind, because making sure everyone plays their part is the best way for a group to make good things happen.

After this, I wasn’t concerned or nervous at all about beginning work on the album — it had already been started! Soon enough, it became clear that other parts had different opinions about what would be a worthwhile topic to write a song about for a kids’ album. So it seemed like the obvious thing to do was for each to write its own song. I did a separate AI for each. Before I knew it, I had an album.

Now, over the years I’ve written hours and hours of music, and I often go digging through it all when I work on a new project, looking for which pieces seem appropriate to make use of. With this album, though, I started basically from scratch. The only thing I had in mind at all before the first AI for the album was the basic idea for the song Naked Time and the fact that I thought it would work well as an upbeat rhythm and blues tune. Even after the first album-as-a-whole AI, I had just a handful of ideas for songs. After the way the first song came about, I was curious to see just how far AI and IFS could take me, so I dove in and let those processes essentially guide the project.

As I did this, I found it was pretty easy to get each part’s ideas on what they wanted to write about. Something I found interesting was how some parts wanted to write about things that seemed more obvious based on their personality while some picked topics that at first seemed pretty unpredictable based on who they are. When I thought about it, though, those unpredictable topics tended to be things the part maybe had been missing out on or even avoiding for a long time. Not coincidentally, I’m sure, many of the songs have to do directly with what AI and IFS are about.

Either way, with a strong focus always on what each song would be about, I worked almost always on lyrics first with music following. Very different from how I’ve almost always worked before, writing music and then fitting lyrics to the tune. I was a little concerned about how — or even whether — the music would come along, because music often seemed to require lots of exploration and inspiration before I could come up with something I thought worth using. But now, basically every time, if I wrote lyrics first, music just flowed out afterward. More often than not, it seemed to pop out of nowhere. It was the kind of experience I’ve often heard about from other artists but hadn’t often experienced myself — and it made me feel like AI and IFS were really helping me tap into something. Most of the songs took only several hours to write from beginning to end, or at most a couple of days. Ideas, lyrics, music, done. The songs were all written during January and February 2008.

After the first few songs, I noticed that I’d been playing with a few different musical styles and that, coincidentally, the songs were written in different keys. I decided to purposely try to explore many more different musical styles, letting each song take on its own stylistic personality, just like the lyrics were being written by 12 very different parts of myself. Since there are 12 notes in Western music, I thought it would be neat to have each song in a different key as yet another nod to the unique contributions of the 12 parts. Though a few songs later needed to change keys to accommodate vocal ranges, in the end all 12 keys stuck.

Given how the very first song came about, as I wrote the rest of the album, I thought a lot about how both AI and IFS make clear that the best results come from getting all the parts of a system to participate. Because these two approaches played such an important role in making the album, it seemed like a natural thing to call the album something related to them. I thought about kids and what things might relate to both kids and this notion of requesting everyone get involved. Parties and party invitations occurred to me. All my parts were invited to participate as equals, each contributing a song, as if they’d all been asked to the same party. “Everyone’s Invited” became an obvious title.

From kids’ parties, the image of cupcakes popped into my head, and the fact that cupcakes can often be made in a 12-cup muffin pan. It didn’t take long to connect that to the other ways the number 12 had come into play — 12 parts, 12 songs, 12 styles, 12 keys. That gave me the idea for the artwork: a muffin pan filled with 12 cupcakes, each decorated like a person’s face, but all showing very different expressions, ranging across a full spectrum of emotions. Because the best results come from getting everyone involved — not only the happy and pleasant ones but even the sad ones, the angry ones, the awkward ones, everyone. Everyone was invited. And this seemed like a fun image to get that across. Graphic artist Erik Battey was fantastic to work with in bringing life to and expanding on those ideas throughout the album’s packaging.

With all the different things they — we! — came up with to write about, hopefully there’d be something for everyone to enjoy in the album. You’ll find the story of how each part wrote each song in the individual song posts. You might enjoy learning the rest of the story as it happened, following not the track list but the order in which the songs were actually written. Here’s the complete chronological order, and at the bottom of each song’s story you’ll find a link to the story of whatever song was written next, so you’ll be able to easily follow the entire tale from beginning to end.

The Vocals

There’s plenty more to the making of the album, but most of the rest makes for a pretty dull story. Initial arrangements in March/April 2008, searching for a vocalist in May/June, recording vocals and tending to lots of things other than the album in July/August, mixing in September/October with some final vocal recording in October, then mastering and manufacturing in October/November. Mostly lots of sitting in front of a computer and doing a lot of technical and businessy things, blah blah blah. The only other part that seems worth talking about in any detail here is the vocals, and in particular the lead vocalist.

I can sing, maybe a bit better than I give myself credit for, but I’m just not really a singer. Whenever I write music, I pretty much always intend to find someone better than myself to do the singing. I found a number of great candidates through HVmusic.com, a great resource for Hudson Valley music. What I hoped to find was a female singer (because I just like how they sound!) who had a great voice, would be able to pull off the variety of musical styles in which I’d written, and would especially be able to do so more as a genuine rock/pop singer as opposed to having more of a musical theatre or cabaret kind of voice. Naturally, I also hoped she’d be a real professional to work with but also fun. And what I really hoped for was to find someone who not only had all these other qualities but also had an appreciation for the ideas behind the lyrics, maybe even a fellow parent who was as interested as I was in natural and healthy ways of parenting, learning and living.

I hit the jackpot with Dianne Mucci, who fit every bit of the description I just gave. A real rock singer, Dianne nevertheless shared with me a love of lots of different kinds of music. When she first sang for me, she showed me that she could learn songs very quickly and also deliver great, varied performances, appropriate for the different styles. We laid down all the vocals in her garage during three recording sessions. Because she was always so prepared, songs at first took only about two hours to do from the moment we started until the moment we’d listened to a complete track we liked. By the final recording session, we were averaging around just one hour per song. She not only gave me the kinds of things I was looking for in each song — she also brought new ideas to the table that I hadn’t considered, and helped greatly in exploring possibilities for background vocals.

On top of all this, she’s just a cool person with a cool family, and she even cooked dinner for me when I’d come to record! I’m really grateful for making the connection with her and so glad that she was a part of the project.

Share your own stories — of art or other things that have inspired you, of how you came to do something artistic or creative, of how the OHB’s songs have impacted you, whatever you like — at the Fan Clan.

Release Date: November 11, 2008
Formats: CD and MP3
Catalog Number: PCA 00001

Compact Disc Credits:

Circle P - Phonorecord Copyright&© 2008 Mark S. Meritt. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.

Released by Potluck Creative Arts, 41 Fraleigh Street, Red Hook, NY 12571.1526, USA / potluckcreativearts.com

Manufactured in the USA. Printed on certified 100% green forestry practices board, minimum 10% post-consumer recycled content, with all vegetable inks.

Layout, band logo and illustrations by Omnirock / omnirock.com

All songs written by and © 2008 Mark S. Meritt (BMI). All rights reserved.

Dianne Mucci – Vocals / myspace.com/sparkleysledgehammer

MSM – Instruments, additional vocals / marksmeritt.com

Produced, arranged, recorded and mixed by MSM in the basement in the village, Red Hook, NY, using a MacBook Pro, MOTU Digital Performer 5.13, Native Instruments Kontakt 3, EastWest/Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra Gold Complete, Quantum Leap Colossus, EastWest/PMI Bösendorfer 290 Grand Piano, and an M-Audio Keystation Pro 88.

Vocals recorded in the garage on the mountain, Bloomingburg, NY.

Mastered and manufactured by Oasis, Delair, NJ / oasiscd.com

Layout, band logo and illustrations by Omnirock / omnirock.com
All illustrations © 2008 Erik Battey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Mark thanks: Dianne, a welcome collaborator in so many ways; Sophia, who it’s all for; and Jen, who makes it all possible.

Dianne thanks: My inspirations Ron, Blaze and Jett.

For lyrics, music, merchandise, blog, mailing list, conversation and other things weird and/or wonderful, everyone’s invited to theoffhandband.com.

For songwriting workshops, custom-written works, creativity coaching and other music, arts and creativity services you can do with Mark at a distance and in person, visit potluckcreativearts.com.

Lyrics for The Animal School based on the story published by ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd., in turn based on the original story by George H. Reavis, now in the public domain.


Everyone’s Invited — CD Album

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Everyone’s Invited — MP3 Album

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I work hard on the songs and the site, giving away a lot of stuff for free. If I could make a living by making art, I could make — and give away — even more. That could actually happen if everyone who listened contributed just a little bit. If you’ve enjoyed some of my free music or other content — on the site, through downloads, however — why not take a second and make a contribution to support me in making more? Just click on the Donate button in the right sidebar. Thanks!

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9 comments for “Everyone’s Invited

  1. This is truly “music with a message” to be enjoyed by children AND adults together. I think “Animal School” should be required listening for all educators. It brought to mind Harry Chapin’s “Flowers Are Red.” Food for thought!

  2. Dear Mark,

    we are a German family and left Germany for unschooling in 2008. Since 2009 we live in Canada. We are interested in listening your Album. We got the information from the unschooling Canada mailinglist:

    > Two years ago, I created an album of original songs for kids
    >and families,
    > inspired by unschooling, attachment/unconditional parenting,
    > and other
    > related parenting/educational/developmental ideas. I’m
    > currently giving away
    > a total of 200 free downloads of the album:

    How can we start the download.

    In love, Thorsten

    ps In Germany I founded an education company. The website is still available. http://www.BS-Spass-am-Lernen.de It is in German.

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