Off the High Dive…

And into the deep end.

2014-07-08 10.51.10

You know what that picture above means I think. This week I took a pretty big plunge- for me anyway. It’s one thing to be making music in your basement, maybe even recording it and sticking it on the internet somewhere like Soundcloud, maybe even playing out some, or playing in a band.

Making a record feels like a whole other level of something. But really cool.

We spent two days tracking the core of six songs this week. Drums (Brian McRae), bass (Brian Schey- also producer person), acoustic guitar (me) and lead guitar (Arthur Lee Land). To get six songs done in two days was pretty busy, but really fun and interesting. Working with three musicians that good was also really fun, but intimidating as hell. We had made charts in advance, and recorded a guide vocal for each song, and that’s really all these guys needed. We talked about the vibe of the song, went over the form, I played a bit just to give them the feel.

Brian's megadrum kit.

Brian’s megadrum kit.

Then we jumped.

But with guys this good, even the first pass sounded great. So by the time we had six takes or so, it sounded better (to the point that it was literally painful for me to listen to the guide vocal- I’ll be really thankful to record those over again).

It was also great to work with a bunch of guys this nice and humble about how awesome they really are. I felt pretty outgunned as a musician, which was balanced by the fact that I wrote the songs, so when it sounded good, at least I had that. Of course, another great luxury is to do all of this about two minutes from my house- which is part of the joy of living in Lyons, CO.

Studio dog.

Studio dog.

This is, of course, just the start of the process. Later this week Brian (producer person) and I will start wading through all the takes and figuring out which are the best, which need to go, which parts should be swapped. All that stuff. And we still have some instrument parts to record- pedal steel will come later and potentially some keyboard parts. Then there’s the part where I try to sing at the same level at which these guys play. Yeah, we’ll see about that when the time comes.

Giant, funky kick drum. Sounds way cool.

Giant, funky kick drum. Sounds way cool.

In the meantime, this is really fun and really cool and really exciting. And I’m still managing to write a few new songs in the middle of all that, and play a few shows. Updates for solo shows here, for shows with Malibu Drive here.

Rock on.

Rock on.

Stay tuned as the process unfolds. I’m hoping for an early fall release of this project.

Process, what process? Birthing a song.

Someone asked me a while back, “what’s your songwriting process?” I think I mumbled, ‘uh, I dunno, I write stuff and sometimes it rhymes, and sometimes I figure out how to play guitar to it.’ Which sounds like the kind of thing Ray Wylie Hubbard would say (which secretly is exactly what I’m trying to do, ’cause if I could sound like him, man that would be cool). I wasn’t just making that up either. It’s not a bad description of what I do sometimes. Most of the time, for me, what works is to start with a line or two. Often it will be rattling around in my head, but sometimes it comes other ways.

Sometimes someone just hands me something and it works. Recently, the bass player in Malibu Drive (click for gigs and such) Jim O., who works construction when he isn’t playing bass, came to rehearsal and told us this story. He was working on an overhaul of a grain elevator in our area, and as he was stripping old tin siding off one of the buildings, he found a name carved into the wood underneath. The tin had been on the wood for at least a hundred years, but the wood itself was older. Jim said, “man, this name is just too good. One of you has to write a song about this.” The name they found on the wood was ‘Kentucky Slim.’ Which really is begging to be put in a song.

The problem is that the name is all we have, and normally I start with a sense of story, or an idea of some lines. In this case all I had was a name. But a good name for sure. So that rattled around in my head for a week or so, and I worked on other things (one trick is to always write something, even if it’s just noodling around with some lines- work breeds work).

Eventually the name was too much and I just started messing with some thoughts. Looking back, the challenge was to write a song about someone that I didn’t know anything about, and wouldn’t ever know. In fact what was interesting about Kentucky Slim was that we don’t know who he was. And, because I’m me, Kentucky Slim is going to just bore the crap out of me if he’s a happy guy who spent his quiet, stable life loading grain. So I started with the idea that maybe he rode the train (the grain elevator has an old railroad siding). Plus, his name wasn’t “Colorado” Slim, so he doesn’t sound local.

Kentucky Slim jumped a Westbound train

Running from a life of sin.

Cool. West bound trains are always better, at least in this country, and nobody hops a train because things are going well. Not in my songs anyway. Now we need some rhyme (explanation of why we need rhyme to follow).

With only a bag of secret pain

And many a scar on his fragile skin.

The guys gotta have a bag, right? And scars are cool. So he should have some. Notice I’m just making crap up here? Notice the total lack of vision or clear goal for the song? One of the things I love about working in rhyme and meter is it forces the logical part of my head to concern itself with something other than editing my ideas. I’m busy trying to make the rhyme and line length come out, so I’m not thinking ‘god, you just wrote the dumbest line ever in the history of man and you should burn this paper and all your crayons too, and take vow never to write ever again.’ I’m just trying to find form and rhyme, so then I’m free to write, instead of thinking too hard about meaning, which has never helped me much.

He spent a night beside the track

At a siding where they loaded grain.

Carved his name on the wall out back,

Then he headed West again.

I’ve now expended the entirety of facts I had to work with here.  Since I’m feeling ‘inspired’ (which as Todd Snider points out is ‘the word they use when you’re making shit up’), I don’t care. If I need more facts, I’ll make them up. And I have a verse structure going, with a sort of double verse thing completed already. But if the whole song is this form it will get boring I think (especially since this is probably going to be a song about not knowing who the hell this guy is), so maybe we need a shift, and one that bumps up a little musically (notice nothing I’ve done is musical yet, although there is a sense of rhythm inherent in the lines). Also, I always remember the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rule of songwriting: “baby don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” So I think I’ll try something that will be a chorus.

Kentucky Slim, Kentucky Slim, 

Where you going boy, where you been.

This is a race that you can’t win.

Kentucky Slim, Kentucky Slim.

One of the best things about songwriting is repetition. I like it because you can say the same thing over and over and sound really good, which doesn’t work very well in the rest of my life. Then I picked up a guitar and tried singing it. I was trying to stay away from starting with a G or D, which I do a lot. So I went with an Em, then just tried to keep it going. It seemed like a train beat would be appropriate, so that’s how I was strumming as I searched for chords that supported how I was singing the lines. The chorus needed to jump up a bit, so I went to a C. Not sure I like that, but for the moment it is working and I haven’t found anything better. I’m not sure I’d call what I do ‘composing,’ but I am searching for a melody line to sing, and once I have it down I try to replicate it in the following verses.

Here’s the Soundcloud link to the verse and chorus above. Where would you go next with this song (or where do you think it’s going)?

So there you go. The start of a song. It needs more (I’ve since finished it), but that’s how I got going. While I was messing with lyrics I did keep writing lists of rhyming words, which I do a lot. I don’t know how many I used, but the act of making the list seems to help. And as I write I’m looking for a structure, because until I’m as good at this as Jackson Browne, my verses need to be about the same (he does have a verse structure in that song, it just doesn’t feel that way, which is why he’s so freakin’ good).

I have been reading Jimmy Webb’s book Tunesmith. If you want a killer book about songwriting, it’s great (very technical, but really good). But mostly it’s making art by braille. Which is to say, I have no idea what I’m doing until I’m done.

Note: I did google ‘Kentucky Slim,’ -there’s a band on the west coast, someone on the east coast using the name (Kentucky Slim Sterling), and coolest of all, a bass player with Earl Scruggs and Lester Flat in the 1950′s went by ‘Kentucky Slim.’ The name found on the side of the grain elevator is at least 100 year old, so no chance it’s connected to any of that. But I’m not surprised to find it elsewhere.

Playin’ on the Patio!

Gig Poster Fork 6-1 height="300" />

This Sunday (June 1) I’ll be at The Fork in Lyons again. Weather allowances aside, we’ll be out on the back patio. My friend Brian will be joining in on dobro, and we might even have  a new song or two. Of course we’ll have the staples: songs about tragedy and death (how fun) and a few songs about rivers and flooding. Amazing food, great scenery, cool people, some songs. What more could you want? Hope to see you there.

Playin’ Around

Gig Poster SC 5-18

Some shows on the way people. This week I’m playing Sunday (5/18) at The Stone Cup here in Lyons from 11am-1pm. If I’m lucky, my friend Brian will be joining me on dobro. They have great food, excellent coffee, and a bit of the ‘hair of the dog that bit ya’ if your Saturday night was was rough.

If you’re living something down we’ll do some songs about people who’ve done worse, if you’re feeling righteous you can enjoy the smug satisfaction of hearing stories of those who aren’t. And yes, I’ll do a song or two about rivers and floods. Hope to see you there.

Spring and Summer Shows

Whew. I forgot what’s it’s like to go to work after playing the night before. I gotta stop. Going to work, that is.

The Fork, in Lyons

The Fork, in Lyons

Big thanks to Wayne and Debbie and crew,  and everyone who came to the Fork in Lyons last night. And huge thanks to Brian Eyster for jumping in and playing on a last minute gig. Looking forward to more shows with Brian in the future.

I’m back at the Fork on a Sunday night on the 1st of June, but before that I’ll be at the Stone Cup in Lyons Sunday morning the 18th of May.

Then the Fork June 1st, and then Saturday night the 12th of July at Left Hand Brewery in Longmont.

All of those are acoustic shows.

Need directions, times or just want to see what’s up? Check here, or follow me on twitter or Facebook.

Stay tuned for shows with Malibu Drive- some of the same songs played louder and faster, and a bunch of other songs as well.

Couch by Couchwest Wrap Up! (extended cut)

I meant to write this a while ago, but I didn’t. So here we go.

CXCW is definitely my favorite bit of internet crazy. We had fun making the videos, and I had a lot of fun watching other peoples vids. See here for my mid-festival update. The only big thing to add to that is that MY SISTER, Anne Stott, finally got in the game at the end of the festival. Here is her video. Great to see ya sis!

We (Brian, Pam and I) actually did four videos as we were prepping. When I played them back I chose two to send in. Now, for your viewing pleasure, are all four. Yes, it’s CXCW UNCUT! Which is sorta funny if you watched some of the videos. Most of them are pretty ‘uncut.’ Including ours. Which is, after all, pretty much the charm. I was impressed that even Roseanne Cash did a one taker in a venue basement this year.

I did use CXCW to make a little pitch for floor relief in our town of Lyons, Colorado. Two of the songs were written in the wake of the flooding here last fall, and if you feel inspired to donate to a great cause, Lyons Community Foundation is the best way to put some support directly in the hands of people who need it. There is more information and a video about the flooding here.

Of course, I also write songs about tragic lives gone horribly wrong. So there are two of those songs here as well.

Who doesn’t like a good old fashioned story about failure and hopelessness? No one, that’s who.

If you made it this far, please feel free to leave us a greeting or comments below. And make sure you keep yourself in mustard. You can never have enough mustard. It keeps things spicy. (Lusty Monk is a sponsor of CXCW. I received no consideration from them for plugging their wares. I just REALLY like the mustard. Plus, they are big music fans).

Couch By Couchwest Mini Set and Update.

Six months to the day after the flooding that hit Lyons, one of my songs is on Couch by Couchwest (the OTHER festival going on right now). It’s a flood song, of course, but there’s another song as well. A classic American story of dreams gone bad and lives ruined. I love that stuff. You can find them both at the link above. When it’s all over I’ll post all the songs we recorded in prep for CXCW. ‘Till then, CLICK THE LINK.

All a fella needs is a couch and a guitar.

All a fella needs is a couch and a guitar.

As always, CXCW has been really cool so far- burning couches, singing children (though not at the same time), funny videos, great songs and some heavy hitters in the song department (David Olney and Gretchen Peters, to name two of my favorites). It’s an example of the best of what the internet can do- rally people around a fun common passion,create community, give people a voice.

My favorite moment so far has been a song by Aaron Lee Tasjan called East Nashville Song About a Train. It’s a really great song.

Big thanks to Brian and Pam who played on the videos with me, and hope you click CXCW and watch some great music and hilarious videos. Four days to go. Make sure you have mustard.

Couch by Couchwest Again!

All a fella needs is a couch and a guitar.

All a fella needs is a couch and a guitar.

So if you are into strange internet events, it’s time once again for Couch by Couchwest.

The ultimate independent music festival, it’s so alternative you don’t have to go anywhere at all. Just sit on your couch and let the festival come to you. Also, follow along on twitter at #CXCW or #CXCW14 to keep up with the conversation. No lines for the port-a-johns, no overpriced food and drink, no sweaty crowds (well, no idea what you house is like). It’s a very cool thing.

If you are  musician, whip out that cell phone and make yourself a vid. Submission rules are here. It’s not hard, nor is it a discerning festival. They don’t run out of space, just time. That is a large part of the fun. To see what crazy really looks like, here is one of last year’s best efforts, by a band from Utah called Two Mule Blues. Explosions and everything.

This year I actually planned ahead and got a few friends from Lyons to help make some vids. I’ll pass them along when CXCW posts them. CXCW starts on March 9 and runs through the 15th. And because it’s all on the internet, you NEVER miss a set. Music, your couch, the internet, what more could you want?

Well, mustard. That’s what.

That will make sense if you follow Couch by Couchwest. I promise.

Hey Ray Wylie, I did my homework…

Ray Wylie Hubbard, who has taken to writing loooong and really entertaining Facebook posts, included a song suggestion in a post not too long ago. I’m a big fan of his, so I just couldn’t resist following his instructions and seeing how it came out.

Here are his instruction reproduced exactly:

rwh instructionsrwh instructions rwh instructionsSo there you go- a throw down from the master. I tuned the B to an A, got out a pen and started writing. I didn’t really do the “Blue Moon of Kentucky ” thing, but I got everything else in one way or another:red shows, black cross tattoo, cursing in Spanish, butcher knife, hexes.

Here you go:

I haven’t taken it to an open mic yet. I’ll let you know how that goes.


Happy Birthday Elvis!

I don’t really have much to say beyond that. Without Elvis, where would we be?

This video hit MTV when I was in college. It was about the only thing I liked on MTV back then. Or now, quite frankly. Mojo Nixon is still on SiriusXM I think. You can hear an awesome interview with him on the Thanks for Giving a Damn podcast by Otis Gibbs.

Elvis is everywhere. Elvis is in boats. We are all moving towards perfect Elvisness.

Damn straight.