Last weekend I drove over to Ontanogan, Michigan to participate in the Porcupine Mountains Music Festival located in the state park up there. Peg Carrothers of The Mud Creek Warblers pulled some strings and got me a slot on the Busking Stage on Saturday afternoon. It was well attended and I was well-received. I met a lot of good people that weekend and had a great time camping, swimming, and watching Fred Eaglesmith and Charlie Parr play on the main stage. 10/10 would play again.
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I'm a little late in getting to this, but a couple weeks ago, Harry South and I drove up to Calumet, Michigan to perform at the Red Jacket Jamboree at the Historic Calumet Theater. Harry was part of the house band The Copper Cats which included Jerry Younce (guitar), Bill Carrothers (piano), Carrie Biolo (percussion), and Harry South (bass). These guys accompanied me on a few songs and it was a real thrill to hear jazz and classical players translate my songs.
Mean Mary graced the stage for the second part of the show and was a real doll.
Some highlights were standing on that beautiful old stage, watching the sunset in Copper Country with Carrie Biolo and Harry South, listening to Cole Porter songs with Harry late at night and sharing some of my favorite country songs with him. The Copper Cats did great renditions of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)", "Don't Fence Me In", and "Up a Lazy River".
We also had a nice visit to the new Keweenaw Coffee Works the day of the show. The weather was perfect and the whole thing was awfully fun.
Below is a video of me performing the Billy Hill song "There's a Cabin in the Pines" with Jerry Younce accompanying me on guitar.
I was Mad Donna's in East Nashville about to experience Liz Cooper's band play for the first time. This kid who worked in the kitchen who I knew from an open mic at Dino's told me to come out back with him. He wanted to show me his hangout spot. We went into this alley and in between two fenced in backyards there was a little nook with a tree stump in it. This kid (let's call him "Will") Will stood on the stump and produced a glass piece which he loaded up and lit. "I like to stand on this stump. People don't think to look over this way when they drive by." I tried it. I liked it. I love standing on things. Don't ask me why.
We went back inside in a much more aware-of-details state of mind just in time to catch Liz Cooper & the Stampede roar through their set. I was very moved by it. They're a really good band and Liz's distinctive guitar playing is about to catch on in a big way really soon.
After the set, I set out walking around this neighborhood in East Nashville, as I was wont to do. I walked about a mile, just ruminating on the set I had seen, my ears ringing, feeling inspired. I ended up sitting on a bench, eating a big slice of pizza, and recording this little voice memo in my phone which I still listen to from time to time. I texted this girl Mary from Michigan who I had been crushing on pretty hard (she's my wife now) and told her about my night.
Over the next few days this song "Brave" emerged. I was listening to a lot of Buck Owens & His Bucakaroos and feeling the bracing strength of a life lived according to one's convictions. I was right on the edge of making this big decision to move to Michigan. It was another major life change in such a short amount of time. I felt I was living in fast forward almost. So many things happening all at once. When it rains, it pours.
I would practice this song while my roommate was at work, the empty apartment to myself and the cat. I would sing it real loud. My drunk neighbor met me outside one day and asked if that was one of my songs he had heard me playing the night before. I said "yeah" and he told me he had a cousin who worked at Capitol Records and he'd pass the song along to him. Classic.
Fast forward about two and a half years. I'm in Michigan, I'm engaged, I have this band The Ancient Urge and this is one of the first songs we're arranging together. I really like the way it's coming together. It felt a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n roll. In the short-lived career of that band, "Brave" became an internal and crowd favorite. It was short, punchy, rolling, and the band always knocked it out of the park. We loved playing it and recording it out at camp.
Let this tune be an injunction to find that thing you are pleased with about yourself and amplify it for the edification of yourself and the ones you love.
I watched this music lesson by Chilly Gonzales on composition for beginners on QRadio a few years ago. Among other wonderful little flashes of insight, the simple idea really struck me of pedaling on a note or one chord, then jotting down whatever melody comes to you that wheels its way around the note being played. That's what got the ball rolling on this song "Leaving Cup". Thanks Chilly, you crazy bastard.
This was one, lyrically, that took me quite a while to finally get down. I remember singing the very beginnings of it to my friends Anthony and Erin during a recording session in Atlanta during the summer of 2014. The mystery of the line about "her" changing forms and flitting around the room kept pulling me back to the half-written song until it was finished. Of course, this wasn't the first time I played with the concept of shape shifting (here's one example and here's another), but it did reveal to me in the second half of the song what all those shape shifting songs had always been about for me. I read a book called On Truth: the Tyranny of Illusion. It was life changing. I played with a lot of the themes from there in the second half of the song. I strongly recommend the book which you can download for free.
When I moved to Marquette, Michigan, I started this band with a couple of guys I met during the first few months I lived here. We played, wrote, and learned a bunch of songs together. "Leaving Cup" was one of the first songs I wanted us to arrange all together as a band. We ended up going out into the woods for a whole weekend and recording a bunch of demos, drinking a bunch of beers, playing Frisbee, taking saunas, cooking food, and hiking around a bit. It was a great experience. I wanted to use those live recordings up at camp as the framework for the album we were going to record in a big way later on, but some of the songs turned out so well, that I'm releasing them now. This is one of them. I think this song in particular really showed a lot of the strengths we had as a band in terms of arranging, being locked in together, the writing, and just the general feel and sound as a group. We had a really cool thing going on. Here's a little video our friend Josh put together from that weekend that I'm sort of fond of. You can hear "Leaving Cup" playing during part of it.
Finally, the fact that my old friends Steffen Yazvac and Matt Whatley came onto this project to mix and master this song is a great joy for me. We all used to live in the same town. I've done many projects with both of them, but this is the first time we've done something all together and it feels so good. I find that as I get older, the most fruitful working relationships are ones which I've had for years that have had time to deepen and mature.
Love you all.
"I first played this song for an audience in Milwaukee at an art gallery. I had to rent a car (my old one had just finally died), take some time off work, and drive up to Wisconsin in a blizzard. The roads were really bad, but I made it finally and it ended up being a great experience. Not like Lakewood."Read More
Several years ago I read an article by legendary mastering engineer, Justin Colletti, called Feeding the Machine (it’s long, but worth the read if you’re into that sort of thing). In it, he makes the case for returning to the method of releasing a lot of singles since at the dawn of the music industry, the whole apparatus was kept afloat by a tidal wave of singles, some of which “stuck” in the public consciousness, some of which didn’t. It was one of those paradigm shifting moments for me. I had friends that released singles on occasion, but my heart and mind were really with LP’s. It was the format I knew and connected with so well that doing anything other than that rarely even ever crossed my mind. However, Colletti made such a good case for the regular release of singles, that I’ve carried this concept around in the back of my mind for years, telling myself that when I ever get to the right moment in time and circumstance, I’d begin to do just that.
I happened to read Feeding the Machine at just the moment in time where my years-long road dog experiment was winding down. I fell into one of those chaotic in-between seasons, which happened to last for a few years longer than I expected. There was some upheaval in my relationship with my family, my living circumstances changed, my trusty Ford Escort finally kicked the bucket, I moved from one day job to another, learned a ton of classic country songs, got another car, moved to Tennessee with only a foggy picture of wanting something better and more, worked more day jobs, released a really cool record, fell in love with a girl who lived across the country, packed up and moved again, started adjusting to life in a way different climate and culture, began cultivating this life-long relationship, had a really cool, tumultuous band for a year and a half, played some shows, changed jobs again, got married(!) and finally life seems to be smoothing out a little. I’m out of choppy waters and aimed across a stretch of time fully supplied. That whole time, this little idea of regularly releasing singles kept twirling and dancing in the back of my brain and occasionally suggesting itself to me. Now I’m in a period where I actually have the time and resources and people around me to make it happen in a meaningful way that is satisfying to me creatively and that I can make work for me in a financial sense.
Working with audio engineer Peter Gummerson of Rivulare is a key part of this whole enterprise. He’s a cool guy with a great method who puts his money where his mouth is. We’ve worked really well together so far. I’m also excited to get my drummer Bud from my band The Ancient Urge back on board with me. Bud is a deep well, has a composer’s mind, and is great to bounce ideas off of, not to mention he handily plays numerous instruments and is therefore a treasure trove to tap for anyone in my position. Harold South is a really busy, very serious bass player who’s been making a living off of performing and teaching music for years. I’m getting to know Harold still and I’m excited that he’ll be part of this attempt at feeding the machine. I’m sure the revolving door will keep spinning and I’ll introduce other interesting characters (musicians, visual artists, audio engineers) as we go forward and get more songs in front of you all.
Thank you for joining me and for lending your eyeballs and earballs to this ongoing project.
Four years ago today we recorded what became the essential framework of what is now the album Living Is Trying. Here's a little behind-the-scenes of that day. Maybe you remember some of these photos from my social media, or maybe you're seeing all of these for the first time.
One thing that struck me that I hadn't remembered is how many different guitars I used to track the various songs. There was that Old Kraftstman, which is the first picture here ("Madison"), my Martin (a lot of the others), Steffen's acoustic guitar, which I think was a Johnson ("Strong Words"), some classical guitar that was lying around (the second guitar on "Left Arm"), and my old Sigma ("On Wings").
This is a little tardy, but a recent weekend trip was put together to do some live tracking of our band and the songs I've written that we've arranged together. Here's some material compiled from that weekend at the Letts family deer camp with John Davey & the Ancient Urge.