September 18 2008. Over on the soon-to-be-defunct JimH Crossword Blog, a familiar face celebrates Jim’s ascension to the title of Official New York Times Crossword Blogger:

(Watch out for a cameo by Sea Water Bliss bassist Andrew Hall.)

What else is new? Lately we’ve been dreaming up a plan to bring back our rock opera 404 in online, interactive form, but as we’ll need to scrounge some money to make that happen, it could be years before anything comes of it. Meanwhile, Jay and I shot a short film over the weekend at a friend’s cabin in Fort Qu’Appelle (starring rock opera alumna Sarah Barss). It’s gonna be a few months while we edit that. But you just keep on watching YouTube. We’ll throw some more stuff out there sooner or later.

August 30 2008. Thanks to a brief stint as a “featured video” on YouTube’s main page, Garson Hampfield has now been seen by 87,000 people. This is pretty big stuff. (By comparison, we’ve sold about four Sea Water Bliss CDs to people outside our immediate families.) There’s a Garson sequel in the works – gotta cash in while I can! – and I’m working on a live-action, non-crossword-related short film with director JW Arnold. Meanwhile, Andrew and I are cookin’ up some rock-n-roll schemes.

So keep checking back. This corpse is still a-twitchin’.

August 6 2008. The JimH Crossword Blog has just posted a very flattering interview with me, along with a link to the Garson Hampfield animation. I’m not really a crossword guy, but JimH’s site makes me long to sit down with a plate of toast, a cup of tea, and the Sunday Times. Here’s the link:

michael a. charles, crossword animator
Michael A. Charles, crossword animator.

July 29 2008. Across the border in Having Nothing To Do With The Band Land, there are two new animations for you to enjoy or be perplexed by:

March 18 2008. I’m posting this update from Olin’s apartment in Houston, Texas. I’ve been down here for six weeks already, and it’ll probably be another six weeks before I come home. I haven’t really been conducting any band-related business – it’s been an uninterrupted hiatus from responsibility – but I did take the time to upload some old video footage from our performance at the 2005 Weinstein Follies show in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts:

You might also enjoy:

Olin and I recently drove over to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and met up with an old friend of Olin’s and a fellow songwriter, Michael Russell. He’s a good guy and he’s got some good songs, which you can listen to here. (Update: Michael seems to have let his web presence lapse, but one of his songs is archived here: “Carolina” by Michael Russell.)

olin valby michael russell michael a. charles

November 22 2007. Kinda late notice, but if you find yourself in Vonda, Saskatchewan tomorrow night (Friday, November 23rd), you should drop by Sig’s Place and join the small get-together which we will be hosting in the back room. It’s the world premiere party for our music video “You’re not the one” and director Jay Arnold’s birthday. We’ll be playing some rock-n-roll and posing for suggestive pictures with the big moose head on the wall.

PS. There’s now also a “making of the video” video you can watch.

October 14 2007. Meet Squinty and Gummy.

September 30 2007. A few years back I wrote the script for a short film entitled Haunting Simon. Pretty simple little story about a depressed ghost and her nose-picking, porn-addicted boyfriend. Last summer Jay and I filmed the fifteen-minute movie with Kendra Anderson in the role of the ghost and some homely dude in the role of Simon. Of course, fifteen minutes is too long to post on YouTube, so now we’re trying to figure out what to do with the sucker. Maybe re-edit it to get it down under ten minutes.

Meanwhile, we had all this footage, so we decided to use it to create a music video for our song “The ice age”. The music video is pretty much exactly like the movie, only shorter and with no talking:

Incidentally, that other music video, the one we shot in Vonda in July, is still coming. Just need to get Jay to kick his wedding-video clients to the back of the line and focus on the rock and the roll.

August 5 2007. Not that this has anything to do with anything, but…

June 27 2007. A few photos from Saturday’s video shoot in Vonda. This is our director, JW Arnold, setting up for a shot:

jw arnold

Here’s me teaching the lyrics to a bunch of young Vondanians:

michael a. charles and kids in vonda sk

And here’s Tina Zimonick, our last-minute fill-in waitress. At 11 AM on Saturday, she had no idea she would be starring in a low-budget music video that very afternoon.

tina in vonda, sk

June 23 2007. Just wanted to thank everybody who turned up this afternoon for the filming of our music video “You’re not the one” at Sig’s Place in Vonda, Saskatchewan. This includes all our friends who drove a half-hour from Saskatoon, and sacrificed a beautiful summer afternoon, to assist us; and the tableful of strangers who happened to be eating lunch “on set” as we filmed around them, and who allowed themselves to be talked into lip-synching the chorus. You guys were great. And I especially want to thank Sig herself, for being so incredibly accommodating. In the end, we’ll be lucky if a few hundred people – most of them friends and relatives – watch the completed video when it’s posted on YouTube. But Vonda treated us like rock stars. More on the video soon.

March 4 2007. We’re still a band, really we are. Andrew and I practice at least once a week, except when we don’t. We still develop new songs, which every year or two we play in front of outsiders. We’ve got an album, which strangers are encouraged to purchase for $10 (Cdn).

We also do this sort of thing:

People might get the impression, scanning the last few updates to this website, that the only thing Sea Water Bliss does nowadays is create Flash animations that are only tangentially related to their music. Not true. We also play Scrabble sometimes.

January 29 2007. Happy new year. Having time on my hands (being still unemployed), I recently completed a second Flash animation. This one features me talking about the music video for our song “Half my age”, so if you haven’t watched the video, the animation probably won’t make much sense to you.

December 12 2006. A few months back, when every band in the world was promoting itself on, we were happy to remain aloof and cultivate our quaint, quiet, non-interactive website, safe from the scrutiny of rowdy youngsters, unburdened by the pressure of convincing perfect strangers to become our “friends” and leave dumb comments at the bottom of the page:

DOOMSLAYER999: u guys rock!!! ;-P

I never really got the point of MySpace anyway. I guess if you were too busy or lazy to create a real website, then maybe you’d be willing to settle for a fake, ugly one. But if you’ve already got a website – as most modern rock-n-roll outfits do (even us) – why do you need another one? Mind you, as the boxes of unsold CDs in my closet will attest, I know squat about marketing.

I don’t hear anyone talking about MySpace anymore, so maybe that fad has passed. But YouTube is still going strong. And as much as I generally despise the sparkly and the newfangled, I really like YouTube. Check out this video of Leon Redbone jamming with Alf. How cool is that?

On another newfangled note, I’ve used my most recent period of protracted unemployment to teach myself Flash animation:

So between the Flash cartoons and our ongoing affiliation with local director JW Arnold, the plan is to go on posting videos here and on YouTube until someone out there notices that we exist. Then watch us rocket to stardom!

…Oh, yeah, in our spare time we’ll continue making music.

December 4 2006. Earlier this year Jay Arnold, the director of our rock opera, helped me create this music video for our song “Half my age”. I always said I was gonna put it online, but I was waiting till we had properly mastered the recording. But Jay grew tired of my procrastination and posted the video on YouTube without telling me. What the hell, it’s out there now.

November 27 2006. Our thanks to everyone who came out to see us at McNally Robinson last week. We had a pretty good time. A couple kind folks even bought our album. Hooray! At this rate it should only take us a hundred or so performances to get through the four boxes of unsold CDs currently piled in my hall closet. A few more shows like this and we’ll have enough to record our next album. I just hope I can find room in my closet…

sea water bliss at mystic java
Tootling valiantly to an empty coffeeshop.

November 13 2006. Well, on Friday Andrew and I had our first public performance in a couple years and it went…uh… well, it went. Not much of a turnout, but Mystic Java is kinda out of the way, and it was a cold night, and…um. Anyway, we worked out our first-show jitters in front of six friends and a few people at the back of the room that couldn’t have cared less. So that’s a plus. In a couple weeks we’re doing McNally Robinson. Then maybe we’ll regroup over the holidays and plan to accelerate our world conquest beginning in the new year.

August 21 2006. Always looking backwards, I’ve considerably expanded the section on our 2002 rock opera at the Mendel Art Gallery, Room To Breathe. There’s now a diary recounting my struggles to get the thing written, and my subsequent struggles with the director to get the thing re-written. Also I’ve invited the director, Warren Cowell, to chip in his reflections on the project. He’s surprisingly upbeat about the whole thing.

July 23 2006. Album’s ready. Read all about it and then…

sea water bliss debut album
Buy The Band Known As Sea Water Bliss on CDBaby.

May 7 2006. While the band is still in hibernation, I amuse myself by expanding the Michael A. Charles Online Archive. Eager to hear my views on Canada’s declining birthrate, Paul Wolfowitz’s selection as President of the World Bank, and the surprising commercial failure of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow? Go thither.

Meanwhile, Troy Mamer is working on our album cover art.

February 19 2006. It’s funny how the time slips by. All of a sudden it’s 2006. My on-again, off-again office gig is on again, at least through springtime. Olin, who was in Saskatoon for a couple months working for the NDP in the federal election, has moved on again – this time to Regina, to work in the provincial legislature. Meanwhile our CD is still sitting unlistened-to on Darcy’s hard drive, waiting for us to come into the studio and make whatever final, minute adjustments need to be made before it can be unleashed on the unsuspecting world. Why are we procrastinating? Why don’t we just go in and wrap it up and be done with it? What the hell is wrong with us?

Rather than attempt to answer that question, I spent early January making a music video with our friend Jay Arnold, director of our rock opera 404. To accompany my new song “Half my age”, written in celebration of my father’s sixtieth birthday and my upcoming thirtieth, I conceived a scenario involving a square-headed guy, the square-headed girl he loves, and the magic elixir that brings them together. We filmed the footage over the course of a few days in my apartment, at the Living Room on Broadway (god bless ’em), and on the Saskatoon bus system.

sea water bliss backup singers
A mighty muppet chorus. (Photo by Darcy Beck.)

November 6 2005. As you may have noticed, the Muppets are a big musical influence for Andrew and me. Who isn’t moved by the sound of Muppets singing in unison? So in order to replicate a little of that magic, last month we brought nine of our friends (and a baby) into the studio to sing background vocals on several of our songs. Our invitation stated that singing talent was not required, and in fact was actively discouraged. God bless them, our friends were nicely off-key and exuberant. Most of them left early to catch the Feist show at Louis’, but we kept Jay, Steve, and Kurt around to read aloud from the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It’ll all make sense when you hear the CD.

Also, I’ve been making little changes to the website. My preference is for this site to be as stuffed as possible with content – even content of negligible relevance, such as this. I’d like for people to be able to spend hours clicking around, getting lost in out-of-the-way corners. If this website were a house, I’d want it to be one of those mansions built by crazy people, with secret passages, and staircases leading to nowhere, and huge rooms that can only be accessed through tiny little leprechaun doors. To this end I’ve added a rock opera diary cataloguing the daily triumphs and indignities of mounting our rock opera 404 back in 2003.

andrew hall in the studio, 2005
Andrew plonks away.

October 8 2005. It looks bad when you neglect to update your website for months at a time. On the other hand, what have Andrew and I been up to that’s worth reporting? We’ve both been working full-time – I just wrapped up a six-month gig as a data chimp in a federal government office – and except for a party now and then, we’ve basically given up performing in public. All of which will soon change, I hope.

As I mentioned, Andrew and I have been doing time in the studio with Darcy Beck, who is, fortunately, a pretty cool fella. Before fleeing the country, Dean and Olin each made hasty visits to the studio to lay down their tracks, leaving Andrew and I to finish the songs. We’re making gradual progress. Since last October we’ve been putting in roughly ten hours a month on the record, which is frustratingly slow, but on the bright side, it spreads out the pain of paying for studio time. Now that we’re nearly done we will soon be learning whether all that time and effort were worth it. Stay tuned.

Dean Drobot
Farewell, Rock Drobster.

May 2005. Dean & Anne’s farewell rock-n-roll party went pretty well. We’re all getting too old and tired to really rock out, though. All our friends drank and ate in moderation and spent most of their time sitting on the floor, nodding appreciatively to the music. Good luck in Scotland, Little Drummer Boy…

January 27 2005. Everyone’s leaving. Dean is moving back to Scotland in about a month. Olin has given up school for awhile, and gone to work in Suriname. Soon it will just be Andrew and me again. I don’t know what to say about this, so I’ll just hit some of the highlights from the last ten months:

In anticipation of everyone’s departure, we’ve been working with Darcy Beck at Beck Audio to make a recording. Expect samples from our upcoming CD to start appearing here in the coming months.

michael, olin, and warren in nyc
Michael, Olin, and tour manager Warren in New York City.

Olin and I made a valedictory tour through the northeastern United States earlier this month, where we performed a few songs at the Weinstein Follies show in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. American audiences seemed appreciative, and we got folks growling along with “The growl hole”. We even garnered a positive review in the local paper, the West County News. Unfortunately, upon returning to Saskatchewan, not only am I unable to link to the review, I am unable to find any evidence that the West County News actually exists. We may have been hoaxed

Update: Olin’s dad mailed me a copy of the review. Here’s the relevant paragraph. Humblingly, they managed to get my name, Olin’s name, and the band’s name wrong.

weinstein follies review
Copyright 2005 West County News.

On our way to Massachusetts, Olin and I stopped in Buffalo to visit Olin’s uncle John Valby, AKA Doctor Dirty. Uncle John played us some of his newest tracks and, to indulge his nephew, helped us record our song “Nerds in Paradise” in his home studio. We only spent about a half hour on it, so the recording is pretty awful. But I’ll stick it up here as soon as I get Andrew to show me how.

May 16 2004. Here it is, May of 2004, almost six months since I last updated this page, and once again, I have nothing much to report. This website has become a testament to our lack of ambition. I am ashamed.

We’ve played a few parties and open mikes, including a four-song set at Lydia’s back in December, with Olin’s dad, Jim Valby, on the fiddle. That was fun; I wish there were photos. Instead, here’s a shot of Olin from last year’s Ness Creek Festival.

olin valby, ness creek 2003
Those patches of dark matter on his cheeks aren’t dirt – that’s a “beard”.

Olin is in the States right now – I think somewhere in the neighbourhood of Chicago – earning money to put himself through another year of school. Dean is working a grown-up job in Calgary. Andrew and I have chump jobs in Saskatoon. The two of us continue to rehearse regularly in Andrew’s basement, in expectation of a major surge in demand for jazzy acoustic rock-n-roll, or rockin’ electrified jazz, or whatever the hell it is we play.

Dean and Andrew and I are going to be performing at our friends’ wedding next month. I’d love to invite everyone, but I suppose Jenn & Kurt wouldn’t want a bunch of slobby, sweatpants-wearin’ internet nerds crashing their reception, so I’d better not reveal the location. Let’s just say it’s in a church. I’m waiting to see if Andrew’s bald head bursts into flames when he crosses the doorstep. Other than that, we have no immediate plans.

October 26 2003. Okay, this update shouldn’t take long. Nothing has happened in months. We held a house party in early September, and that’s the last time we’ve played in front of an audience. I hope to get back to manufacturing rock-n-roll someday, but at present we’re hindered by the lack of a drummer (Dean’s apparently stuck in Calgary for good) and guitarist (Olin is absorbed in schoolwork).

andrew hall, ness creek 2003
Andrew, bald and fabulous at Ness Creek.

August 23 2003. Well, summer’s almost over, and it’s been a busy one. First, there was the Ness Creek Festival in July; and then, our moderately well-received, critically savaged, monstrously unprofitable rock opera 404 at the Fringe Festival in August. We’re all pretty exhausted and sick of the sight of one another now, but looking back, it was a pretty good season for rock-n-roll.

So, Ness Creek. We were the second-last act on Sunday afternoon, playing to the receding backs of the hippies as they packed up their tents to head home. Nevertheless, we managed to rouse the interest of a hardcore crowd of maybe a hundred lawnchair-dozing festival-goers. No-one got up and danced, but we did get them clapping along to “Theme from Teen Wolf Too“, which I count as an accomplishment.

Then, the rock opera. True, it was the victim of the worst review of the 2003 Fringe Festival. And true, we lost a heck of a lot of money. And true, we never came close to selling out the Broadway Theatre. And I’ve never worked so hard in my life. But, man, I had a blast.

Here’s to Jay, Charlotte, Damien, Sarah, Steve, Trevor, Scott, Mark Howard, Chris Dally, Troy, Jenn, Lee, the Fringe organizers, the folks at Echo Valley Conference Centre, our sponsors, and everyone else who helped out along the way. Next time, maybe we’ll figure out a way to do it so that everyone gets paid.

404 a rock opera
Illustration by Troy Mamer, design by Chris Dally.

July 15 2003. Rock opera, rock opera, rock opera. Holy crap, are we ever busy. I don’t have time to properly spiff up the website, but we’ve just begun to do publicity for the show, and I guess it’s possible people will start dropping by again. Welcome, strangers! This hasty update is just for you!

(Longtime visitors, be patient: I’ve temporarily removed all controversial material. On August 10, the rock opera closes, and the smut goes back online.)

Also, we’re doing the Ness Creek Festival in, like, four days. Visit the Ness Creek website for more info. (They’ll refer you back here.)

Geez, is it ever late. I’m going to bed.

June 1 2003. Well, our new/old drummer Dean has gotten a cushy job in Calgary, which is good, because it means his immigrant girlfriend Anne gets to stay in the country, and bad, because – well, because Dean & Anne are now in Calgary. We haven’t had a chance to assess exactly how this new situation will affect our viability as a four-piece rock-n-roll band. Or, more accurately, we’ve had plenty of chances to assess it, but it’s far easier to just ignore the question completely.

jw arnold and damien bartlett filming 404
The serious business of rock-n-roll.

On the rock opera front, things are proceeding nicely. We’ve got most of the cast in place. We made a trip down to Fort Qu’Appelle to film some video footage for the show, which was great fun. We got to wander the halls of a haunted hospital, transform a garbage dump into an eerie, smoking UFO crash site, and smash a television with an axe. The indispensable Steve Barss debuted the soon-to-be-famous “spaceman dance”. His sister Sarah wandered around in the cold wearing a see-through nightgown and not much else. And we all ate hot dogs until we damn near puked. Just two more months till opening night! It’s gonna be a trip.

I am in the process of spiffing up the rock opera page with more info & photos of the cast. Also, I’ve added a funny picture of Olin. Scroll down the page for that one.

dean drobot in la paz
Dean rocks the charrango with Boris Chavez Gomez in La Paz.

May 3 2003. His world travels at an end, Dean made his weary way home to Canada, dragging with him his lovely and tolerant Scottish girlfriend Anne. His former bandmates soon appeared on his doorstep. “Come drum with us,” they pleaded. “Only we can fill the rock-n-roll-shaped hole in your heart.”

“Only if I can be the leader of the band,” replied Dean. “And our new name is ‘Bastard Angel’. And Anne wants a Saskatoon berry pie.”

After some negotiation, it was agreed: Dean is our new/old drummer, for as long as he chooses to stay in Saskatoon. Anne got her pie. Michael got the freedom to take his hands off his guitar every once in a while. It’s amazing how much easier it all is when you just add a little percussion. Now every song has a section where we clap our hands and chant, “Hey, ho, let’s go.”

The rock opera is motoring along, and we just found out that we’re playing this summer’s Ness Creek Festival (July 20). So late July and early August will be insanely busy for us. Until then, as always, you can find us down in Andrew’s basement, struggling to control our instruments.

sea water bliss at lydia's, march 2003
Onstage at Lydia’s, March 2003.

March 5 2003. We had an intense three-day run of public appearances a couple weeks back. On Thursday, Feb 20, we were the opening act for the Ness Creek Open Stage, which went pretty well. The next morning we did our friend Jenn’s morning show on CFCR community radio. We played a few songs and made a few sacrilegious comments, and Jenn slandered the French. The next night was a benefit for the Saskatoon Community Bicycle Program, which is Olin’s pet project. I feel a little bad for the headlining acts, Linus Hemmingway and The Pinch. We didn’t get on until eleven, and we played for close to an hour, so the other bands had to rock away into the wee hours. I stayed for The Pinch, who were awesome, but I was too exhausted to stick around for Linus Hemmingway.

I should note that Andrew and I went to school with the guitarist and drummer from The Pinch. Their band was one of our opponents in Carlton High School’s Battle of the Bands in grade twelve, when we were still called Bonerface. They won that battle, but we had the distinction of almost having our power cut off by the principal during our song “Pee on Jesus”. If the song hadn’t been so damn short, we would have been officially censored, and we might have started a riot.

February 17 2003. Headline: the band known as Sea Water Bliss reunites with travel-weary guitar star, hippie hero, and boy-toy Olin Valby.

Olin Valby
Olin, before we made him presentable.

That’s right, our effervescent guitar player, last seen attempting to walk from Oregon to South America, where we assumed he would be assimilated into some primitive Amazonian tribe and never be seen again, has given up the wayfarin’ life (for the time being) and returned to Saskatoon. What else can we say? There’s three of us now. That’s fifty percent more rock-n-roll for your entertainment dollar.

November 2002. So we performed our rock opera Room to Breathe in the auditorium of the Mendel Art Gallery back in June. It’s the story of a patient at the Fort San tuberculosis sanatorium in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. The show ran for a week and attracted a little media attention, including a nice story (mostly about me!) in the Lifestyle section of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, and a brief blurb on CBC’s national Arts Report.

After the run ended, there was some talk of taking the show on tour to Regina and Fort Qu’Appelle, but those plans kind of petered out. I feel badly that we weren’t able to recoup a bit more of the Mendel’s sizeable investment in the show – it turns out that, while there’s an audience out there for multimedia rock-n-roll theme shows set in the Qu’Appelle Valley, that audience is, unfortunately, not willing to pay ten dollars for the experience. We enjoyed packed houses on the two free nights, however.

Anyway, Andrew and I made a few bucks, got some media exposure, had the opportunity to work with some talented and interesting local musicians, and – most importantly – got the rock opera bug out of our systems, finally. Now we can get back to doing what we do best: nothing. We haven’t rehearsed in months. I don’t know what’s next on our agenda.

michael a. charles at the mendel, 2002
Michael at the Mendel Art Gallery, 2002.

January 21 2002. Our performances at the Mendel Art Gallery in December went pretty well. We played for an audience of friends, Mendel employees, and schoolchildren, and I only dropped my pick twice. There has been some preliminary discussion of us maybe playing again at the Mendel – the perfect venue for my long-dreamed-of rock-n-roll opera? – I’ll post details when there are any.

We hurtled through our recent set at Louis’, on January 12th, without any major errors. We haven’t made any further commitments to play in public, so I guess for now it’s back to the basement for me and Andrew, to plot our next assault on the public consciousness.