13 DECEMBER, 2011
Merry Christmas | We haven't done too many covers over the years, but it seems like whenever the holidays roll around, we start throwing together acoustic covers. Last year it was "Wild Horses." This year? Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees." Stay tuned for more.
8 OCTOBER, 2011
Occupy music | Mary Beth, Gibson, and I joined the Occupy Tacoma rally yesterday in downtown Tacoma, and we were so inspired we documented the experience and put it to music. The song is "Hold Me Up," the final track on Bells.
Here's the video:
9 SEPTEMBER, 2011
TWBA podcast | Just a quick heads up. We'll be guests this Sunday evening, Sept. 11, at NWCZ Radio, where we'll be answering questions and spinning cuts from the new album. Tune in from 9-11pm. If you miss the podcast, you'll be able to catch the show here after it airs.
1 SEPTEMBER, 2011The bells ring | Today marks the official release of Bells, our ninth album. It's always hard for us to be objective about our own music, but we feel pretty damn good about this one.
So good, in fact, that we want everyone to hear it. In that spirit, if you'd like a FREE digital copy of Bells, shoot us an e-mail and we'll give you the URLs to all nine tracks in mp3 format, no strings attached.
Of course, if you want to pay for it, please do. We've invested plenty of blood, sweat, and tears (not to mention cash) in its creation. You can buy the CD from us or CD Baby, and the mp3s are available -- or will be shortly -- pretty much everywhere that sells music on the web.
After you've listened to it, drop us a note and let us know what you think.
25 JULY, 2011
Birthing | Although it won't be officially released until Sept. 1, we've finally got several copies of Bells in our hot little hands.
If making an album is like giving birth, this one nearly killed its mother, the ob-gyn doctor, and everyone within a 20-mile radius of the recording studio where it was dragged kicking and screaming from the womb. Fortunately, we're still here. Time to pass around the cigars while we listen back to our ninth -- ninth! -- studio effort. We're proud, if exhausted, parents. And really, the music part was easy. It was everything else that made us want to marry the anesthesiologist. Where's my epidural?
5 MAY, 2011Number 9 | So... we begin recording Bells this weekend. Our plans for our ninth studio album have changed slightly since we last blogged about them. Instead of two drummers, we'll be playing with just one: Mr. Chris Gorczyca, whose stylings can be heard on Morning after Food Poisoning in the South of France.
The original plan was to record nine songs with Chris and two with longtime TWBA drummer Roger Johnson. But we decided we'd rather wait and do a whole album with Roger. Since we have an abundance of material waiting in the wings, work on that project could begin as early as this summer. In any case, Roger will be doing the bulk of the drumming at the shows on the calendar, so anyone needing their Jaja Boom Boom fix will be in good shape shortly.
As for Bells, we'll be keeping some journal notes and will share those, along with photos and video, here and on facebook as we go. We tend to get tunnel vision when we enter the studio, but we promise to let you in on the process, which is everything: exhilarating, tedious, cathartic, nerve-wracking, and at times mysterious.
18 MARCH, 2011
Makeover | We're not very adept at multitasking, but that hasn't stopped us from giving this here site a bit of a makeover while also preparing for our forthcoming album, Bells. Our goal with the redesign is simple navigation and an easy-to-understand layout.
Did we succeed? Send us an e-mail and share your thoughts.
1 MARCH, 2011
Bells | We got a little distracted last month with a couple of one-off shows, but it's back to rehearsal for us. We're slated to record Bells, our ninth album (seventh full-length), in May at Elliott Bay Recording Co. Greg Strickland will be playing bass, and Chris Gorczyca and Roger Johnson will be tag-teaming the drums. We'll keep you posted on our progress.
14 FEBRUARY, 2011
Feet on the ground | Being married to the guitar player of a band isn't easy -- at least that's my assumption. I'm married to the singer. And that's been nothing but inspirational. Yes, there are those female lead singer jokes, and some of them apply (How can you tell when a female lead singer is at your door? She never knows when to come in...).
But in case anyone is wondering: Mary Beth is the low-maintenance one in this relationship, on and off-stage. She's tough, but nurturing. Supremely talented, but as humble as they come. She's got the voice of an angel, but her feet are planted firmly on the ground. She's not without her faults, of course, but they are all forgivable. Most of them, in fact, are part of her charm.
We've been together as songwriter and singer for longer than we have husband and wife. But with every passing year, that distinction shrinks. Every day for me is another chance to write something that will make her smile -- and sing. It's a little confusing, at times, to be in love with AND in the same band with your muse. But I can't imagine my life any other way.
Happy Valentine's Day, Mary Beth.
7 FEBRUARY, 2011Jamnesty | We took some video footage of our show last Friday at the Ground Zero Teen Center. This is "Okinawa," from the War Stories album.
11 FEBRUARY, 2011
Goodbye, Doublemeat Palace | This Friday, Feb. 4, we're slated to play Jamnesty, a benefit for Heifer International and a handful of other aid organizations, at the Ground Zero Teen Center. We try to donate our music to good causes, but with so many worthy ones out there, it's hard to know which one(s) to make a priority. Which ones deserve our support? How can we have the most impact? How can we save the world, damn it!?!
Well, it has slowly dawned on Mary Beth and me that the most radical thing we can do also happens to be the simplest: change the way we eat. Which we have. We make exceptions for the occasional treat or night out, and we try not to be too dogmatic about it. But when we're sticking to our guns, we eat only small portions of meat and hardly any sugar or white flour. And we treat any kind of processed food, whether of the salty, sugary, or fast-food variety, like the plague that it is.
That means no store-bought cookies, chips, etc. No soda, frozen meals, or canned soup. No late-night dashes to the Doublemeat Palace. Whether tortillas or Thai dishes, we make almost all of our meals from scratch (when I say "We," what I really mean is "Mary Beth," since she does the lion's share of the cooking around here). We also bring our own reusable bags to the grocery store, including little muslin bags for produce, nuts, etc. We stalk the perimeter of the grocery store - the produce department, the bulk bins, the natural food aisle - and we buy organic and local whenever possible. As a general rule of thumb, that means we eat a colon-inspiring amount of raw fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts every day (with the scraps ending up in the compost bin and eventually our garden). And man, do we feel good. As it turns out, food tastes better once you start eating, well, you know, food.
But the impact goes beyond our taste buds and our health. Fewer animals (including humans) suffer in factory farms. Less packaging ends up in the landfills. Less farmable land is dedicated to high-intensive farming practices. Less energy/fuel/clean air is spent transporting food long distances. Less chemicals end up in the food chain and in our water supply. The list goes on and on. On a personal level, we spend more quality time together as a family, whether in the kitchen or around the dinner table, laughing, talking, and enjoying each other's company.
Can you think of another act that has such far-reaching consequences? By eating right, we're living right. We're not the first people to think of this, of course (see Food Matters or Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, among other books on the subject). And the transformation for us is still very much a work-in-progress. But this latest revelation dovetails nicely with an idea put forth in Peace Is Every Step, a little book I recently came across: peace will not be established collectively but individually. Each of us, by simply taking control of our own actions and living mindfully, has the power to change the world.
Stepping off my soapbox,
20 JANUARY, 2011
Shut your cakehole | Last night Gibson and I wandered over to the Mandolin Café to grab a treat and check out whoever was playing, which in this case meant listening in on most of Heidi Vladyka's first set. Heidi has a charming voice and low-key stage presence, singing about lost loves, the circus, and her quest, repeatedly done asunder, to never drink again. After finishing "the hangover song," she toasted the small crowd with a glass of red wine.
As a musician, I couldn't help being annoyed at the behavior of the patrons around me, many of whom were politely indifferent at best. I know that not everyone who visits their neighborhood coffee shop comes to listen to music, but would it kill people to show a little respect toward the performer and the music? I was thinking that Heidi was mighty brave up there with just her guitar and her voice and at one point wanted to tell all the people talking over her music that, unless they thought they could write a better song and/or deliver it better, they should shut their cakehole(s). Instead, Gibson and I just found a table closer to the music.
So what's up? Is live music just a jukebox we can talk over without regret or shame? Are performers like homeless people standing at a corner intersection begging for money? Better to just ignore them and hope they go away?
A time honored method of dealing with rude audiences, and one employed for decades and dating at least as far back as the early days of the Who, is to turn up so freaking loud people can't hear themselves think, much less talk. Alas, this solution was not available to Heidi. But it was used quite effectively by a local band not so long ago. We first met the lads of 60 Second Buffer Zone while sharing a bill with them at Cosmos up in Bellingham. We were floored by their sheer volume, which was ample enough to rearrange your internal organs, and their raw energy, which spilled out into the crowd.
I got a couple CDs in the mail yesterday from Stew Christensen, SSBZ's erstwhile front-man, and played one of them for Gibson, who said, "This sounds like the beginning of Armageddon." Indeed, it's a shame a band as good as 60 Second Buffer Zone is no longer playing the circuit (although plans are afoot for at least one former SSBZ member to begin something new). But most bands have a tragically short shelf-life, which is another reason why we should all just shut up and listen, eh?
Trying to chase down SSBZ on the internet is like reopening a cold case file. The band didn't leave much of a cyber-trail. But if you want to hear our favorite SSBZ song, "Live Like This," hop on over to GiantRadio.com, another institution from the late 90s and early 00s, where you can sample a few songs from a band that wielded its music like a sledgehammer. No way to ignore Armageddon.
24 OCTOBER, 2011
With Darrell Fortune of NWCZ Radio
Q. What's the inspiration behind NWCZ Radio, and whose idea was it originally? Maybe you can share a little bit about your background and how the show first came to life.
A. The inspiration behind NWCZ Radio really came about from our experience with our show, The Northwest Convergence Zone. As the show's popularity grew and more listeners came in to hear us interviewing and playing local bands, we kept getting a similar response. People thought what we were doing was great, and they enjoyed hearing about local bands they had yet to discover, but outside of getting a CD or going to a show there was no place to hear this great music.
So we started looking into how we could accomplish that. It was originally my idea that I pitched to my station partners DD and Wonderboy, and they caught the vision. It actually took us a year or so of working out how we could set it up, which players to use on our site, etc. So we finally set a date to launch www.nwczradio.com, just to give ourselves a goal to hit. It was a rocky start at the beginning, with several glitches we had to figure out and overcome, but I think we have most of that ironed out and have been sailing smooth for awhile now. Fingers crossed on that!
I had worked in radio for several years spinning tunes, doing news, etc. I left the business permanently as I didn't like the way radio was becoming so stale and dictated by some corporate guy in L.A. or New York telling us we had to play this song or that song when I knew bands in town that were much better and could benefit from airplay. In my opinion, radio has lost its soul and local connection through on-air personalities and supporting artists in their own town. Not promoting shows and being distant from their listeners. Dictating to listeners what they are supposed to like, as opposed to being active in the local scene and finding out what is going on in their own backyard.
Q. You recently added Sherrie "Voxxy" Minter to the weekly podcast. What other changes/additions can we expect?
A. Our show, The Northwest Convergence Zone, which can be heard every Sunday night 9 to 11 p.m. on www.nwczradio.com or in podcast form off our website, has been such a blast to bring the listeners every week.
When our original co-host, Big Joe, had to leave, we wanted to add some different voices and experiences to our show. So we tapped into the talents of The Gimmer and Voxxy. They are both in local bands, have played almost every venue around, and know the local landscape for music as well as anyone. They each bring their own unique voice and opinions as well as connections to our show. I think it has added greatly to the overall content, and we all have a lot of fun, which is the most important thing, I feel.
As for upcoming changes, we are working on some things. We are always looking to evolve as a show, at the same time maintaining the identity we have cemented over the last two and a half years. We recently added a video guy, Pants, to our crew of myself, DD, Voxxy, Gimmer, Squeeze, and Wonderboy. Pants will be video taping many of our interviews and putting them up on our youtube site. We've also added quite a bit more live-in-studio songs from the bands, which have gone over quite well. We also get a once-a-month visit from The Weekly Volcano's Matt Driscoll to talk about sports and other things related to the South Sound. We look forward to adding other features that are in the works, so you'll just have to tune in to find out what they might be!!
Q. You mentioned on a recent broadcast that after 9/11 you tried to enlist in the military but found out you were too old to volunteer. Tell us something else about yourself that might surprise a few of your listeners.
A. This is probably the toughest of the questions to answer. I'm not sure what would surprise people. Perhaps that I once got to play guitar and sing "Man On The Moon" with Peter Buck in a friend's basement. That was very cool and quite a surprise to me. And maybe that I used to be skinny!
22 FEBRUARY, 2011
With Thornton Bowman of Thornton Creek
Q. We still remember seeing you at the Latona in the mid 90s, when you were a solo/duo act with Duane Taylor. Your music, not to mention your band, has evolved significantly since then. Could you tell us a bit about the changes that have occurred over the years? Were the changes conscious or spontaneous or ... ? And do you have a favorite incarnation of Thornton Creek?
A. I remember shortly after that gig at the Latona I changed my diapers. All by myself. Ah, the Latona. Now that was some place to play, especially with wet diapers. I was near there the other day and did not see a commemorative plaque. Surprising. Not even any tartar. Or other raw meat.
Speaking of meat, mostly what has happened with the band is that we meatheads who play in it have aged. We're a lot like fine wine now. Or rotting flesh. It depends (not to bring up the diaper theme again).
When I began playing, I thought for sure that the adoring public would enthusiastically embrace me and my songs and send me down the road to fame and riches. I knew nothing about the reality of the music business, that it was, in fact, a business, and that people might tire of hearing me wax melodic if every song went on for a sobering 6-10 minutes each.
Of course, the first big change was your convincing me to allow Don Miller to play music with me. Without Don most of what has happened would not have. You may recall he came in playing the Chapman Stick. It wasn't until we were recording Songs From the Urban Watershed that he picked up the electric guitar to play a solo. He did it so sheepishly. And, yet, he was fantastic.
There were no conscious changes, only fortuitous ones. And when some of the changes seemed tragic (like when Duane left to pursue his life-long dream of seeing how much honey he could fit between his toes, or when MJ left to - get this - seek a life in Nashville making her living with music) things had a way of working out.
Mark joining the band turned out to be huge. It's hard enough to find and keep drummers and bass players, but with Mark we not only got a drummer but an editor. Mark and Don have led the band in ignoring me. I thought I was above criticism because I wrote the songs the whole band played. But they have put me in my place, and now no song escapes edit and review. It's a good thing. And, of course, having your old (my, aren't we aging?) bass player, Steve Miller, with us is amazing. And then Eric showed up, asked to play music, and doesn't ask for money after a show - how great is that?
Regarding a favorite incarnation of the Creek, this one because it's what's happening. But I wish I still had MJ or that girl from Glee on backup vocals, and a horn section, and a fiddle player. Oh, and a beer wench and a piano player.
Q. How has fatherhood affected your songwriting? Do you approach the music - and being in a band - differently now that you're a papa?
A. Fatherhood has been good for almost every piece of my life, except for time alone and time with my wife. Everyday is a lifetime. Some of those lifetimes are great, some awful, some okay, some both awful and great, but they're all rich. The rugrats have introduced new ways to look and listen and create music.
I don't approach writing music differently, and they even provide some material. I approach the music business a little differently because the children place a high demand on watching the purse strings. There are shows out of town I might have ventured to before the kids that now I won't fully consider because, as you know, most shows simply don't pay for themselves.
An aside: sometimes I hate this business. You know the music appeals to some people in the world when people you don't even know, people in other countries, write nice things about the music and even spend their money on it. But you still get asked from people who should know better, "Can I have three of your CDs? I want to come to your show; will you put me on the guest list?" And then the club owners say, "I love your music and it would work well here. I need you to guarantee me 50 guests. You'll play at 1:00 a.m. and each band member may have two PBRs."
Whew! Glad I got that off my chest.
Q. Tell us about the new album, A Different Door. What was the inspiration for the new tunes? Any good behind-the-scenes anecdotes regarding the recording and production? This strikes us as your most traditional sounding album yet. Lots of old-school twang. But how do you hear it?
A. I think there's a love hate relationship in the band with this project. The amount of love or hate varies with each cast member.
It came out of a personal desire encouraged by MJ and some other singer/songwriter folks, to create a work somewhere in between In the Kitchen of the Blacksmith and Songs from the Urban Watershed. Moe Provencher at Jack Straw Studio (a fabulous songwriter, by the way) kept asking me when I was going to let her record some ThorNton Creek work. And then Mark began arranging the songs and, just like that, we were recording.
We recorded with Moe until we ran out of money. Then Mark hooked us up with his friend Chris Spencer who had just almost finished his basement studio. That's where we finished the work. It all cost way too much money, took too long, and emerged at a time when the consuming public is downloading songs rather than buying complete physical CDs.
You ask about anecdotes. There aren't all that many. Along the way I consigned my gorgeous Larivee 12 string to finish paying for the project. The consigner found a buyer, and gave him the guitar on a lay-away play. Gave him the guitar. Guitar gone. Then the consigner began bankruptcy proceedings. He still promises I'll be paid. What was that line from Mary Poppins (so good to have kids)? "Promises are like pie crusts; easily made and easily broken."
Outside of that, it was pretty uneventful. The drummer exploded three times, but he deflated again. Steve went crazy one day and began smashing his bass into an amplifier. Honestly, I can't think of any more lies.
I enjoy the CD, especially "Buzzard Out the Window," "Roll Back Baby," "Chocolate," and "France." I'm ready to record a more upbeat CD with all the material we didn't record this last time. But I think it holds together and will surely cause the adoring public to enthusiastically embrace me and my songs and send me down the road to fame and riches. Some things never change.
11 JANUARY, 2011
Q. It's been a while since you recorded War Stories with us. Can you recap what you've been up to since then, including maybe telling us a bit about the latest Low Ones album?
A. I moved to Tucson for four years. Played lots of shows with Low Ones and recorded three albums while living there: Swimming to the Moon, Songs for Nightbirds, and No More Darkness. I got to play with some really amazing musicians in Tucson as Low Ones evolved into the loose collective band project that it is today.
Q. How did living in the desert affect your songwriting? Did you write an answer to "Venice" while in Arizona?
A. I wrote lots of songs about stars, moons, and satellites while living in the desert. The night sky was so vivid and close in the old pueblo. Tucson is a city of 850,000 people yet retains a very small-town vibe. I ended up writing lots of sad songs and waltzes by the end of my time there. No answer to "Venice," but I do have a song called "Madison" about a lost couple of nights in Wisconsin.
Q. What are your current plans? What can we expect from Low Ones in 2011?
A. As of late, I've been playing bass for the PT (Port Townsend) band Solvents and writing lots of material for upcoming Low Ones projects. I've also composed 17 songs for a rock opera about time travel, love, loss, and the constant obsession that Man seems to have with war.