January 19, 2004

Today was sort of a rough day, but I am kept happy with thoughts of this past weekend. The band and I had two gigs in Champaign/Urbana, and the weekend was full of new experiences for us.

When we arrived at the Iron Post to talk to the owner and check out the venue we also asked him about inexpensive places to stay. He referred us to the hotel next door, The Historic Lincoln Hotel, I think it was called, and got us a reduced rate since we were performing that night. This place was a castle! The wallpaper was ornate and made of fabric, there was tons of dark woodwork, the walls were high and curved, the rooms had canopied beds and turn of the century ornamentation. It was built in the 1920's, we discovered, and everything in there was an attempt at authenticity. I do believe they succeeded! We had the best time there! We kept joking that some horror flick should be filmed there, and imagined corpses falling out from behind every closet door, but in actuality it was beautiful and very fun.

We played Friday night at the Iron Post (which turned out to be a great show and a good crowd) where we were given a toy Santa Kermit the Frog by a member of the crowd named Mike. I announced to the crowd that we were trying to collect toys or momentos from each city we play in (you might recall the boggle-headed moose) and that we had bought a tie-dyed monkey earlier that day at a Road Ranger gas station. (He now proudly hangs on the rearview mirror, and each band member probably had a turn making him dance or sing as we drove along). Anyhow, I also mentioned it would probably be more fun if the toys happened upon us, rather than us buying them for ourselves, and lo and behold, Mike from the audience runs up to the stage and hands me Santa Kermit. He said he felt like he should bring that to the show for some weird reason, and was looking for an opportunity to give it to me, and when the chance came, he took it. So, Kermit is now a very special part of our momento collection. He sits on the dash by the moose, behind the tie-dyed monkey.

After the show, we were hungry, even though it was a bleary-eyed two in the morning, so we went to Perkins for some breakfast. There we discovered a little-known talent our harmonica player Matt apparently has. He can actually get those toys out of the claw machines! :) While we were ordering milkshakes and coffee, he was putting quarters in the machine, and came back with a hockey-playing bear! Now the bear stands on the dashboard beside Santa Kermit and Boggle-headed moose behind the monkey which hangs from the rearview mirror. It's a convoluted trail of toys!

We crashed for a few hours at the motel after our gig, and attempted to sleep in on Saturday morning. Three of us were in one room, three in the other, and a quick phone call down the hall let us know that a couple hours before checkout we were all watching the same movie on TV: some dragon movie! Great minds think alike. The hotel had kindly given us late checkout, so we finally dragged our instruments and selves downstairs around 1pm. Then, since we didn't have anywhere to be until 6pm, we decided to eat in the hotel's dining room/library, where they placed us directly in front of a beautiful roaring fire! Much eating and conversation ensued, and we rowdies sat around for about two hours enjoying the warmth and the comfortable seats. The staff had treated us so well we left them two CDs to share with everyone.

They had to close up the library, so we had to move around 3, but we weren't ready to leave the shelter of their hospitality, so we moved our lazy butts into the bar (The Alumni Tap) which was ultra cool, complete with jukebox and wide-screen TV. But our downfall was to be Griff's deck of cards. The men decided to teach me to play Spades, and from then on I was addicted.

The Borders gig that evening went well. It's definitely different playing for attentive, quiet, book-reading individuals as opposed to smoke-filled bar patrons, but it was equally worthwhile.

At 10pm we finally got on the road, deciding to make the haul back to Columbia that night rather than pay for another hotel room. We've found the best stay-awake foods are jerky, sunflower seeds, gummi bears, and Frappuccino. (The Mountain Dew and Exedrin headache medicine standbys came out once or twice.) Even though we were all exhausted we couldn't help but sing along to every oldies station we could find from Urbana to Columbia. Its great driving music and you're almost never going to hear a song you don't know.

Every trip I take with the band we get closer, like a family. There simply aren't any taboo subjects between us anymore, which leads to many interesting conversations. And other than the music, which of course is our reason for going through the fatigue, poor food choices, expensive hotels, and whatever else, the best part of what we do is getting to spend so much time with each other. And I do mean that. My band is made up of the greatest guys. Thanks to all of you, Michael, Griff, BA, Rob, Mike and Loyd (who unfortunately couldn't make it this weekend.) You're the best!!!!!

January 14, 2004

In the course of a day, each person probably has about a million thoughts or so, I'm thinking. (There's one right there!) But seriously, with all these thoughts that run through my head, you'd think I could get around to writing them down more often.

Today one of my band members complained that they only have to check my blog once a month to keep up with it, and that's pitiful. If my BAND members are complaining, I'd really better get my rear in gear.

So, today's thought is somewhat unrelated to music, but very much a part of creativity.

I am an avid reader, and recently I've taken to going to the dollar store and buying cheap books by unknown authors that look interesting. This is not a large investment, maybe $1.08 with tax, and since I read a few books a week (can't go to sleep without having escaped into some book for at least an hour or so) this is an economical way to get my fix, and also to discover things I'd never have found otherwise.

I picked up this book yesterday called 'The Bearded Lady.' The cover is very carny-like, with that carnival poster drawing and catch-phrases all over it, but it reads more like a depression-era southern novel, and it is very well written. But, the best part about it is that it has a weird undercurrent to it, a macabre aesthetic, and those kind of books always appeal to me the most.

Hilary's must-read list:

-House of Leaves (I need to find my copy and give you the author, but his last name starts with a 'Z' and ends with "owski," or some such thing, I think. You will be sucked into this book, literally feeling as though you are right there. The author does the most fascinating three-degrees of narrator removal, and yet also mirrors the movement of the story in the very way the pages are laid out. If he's talking about a spiral staircase going down, the words will turn. Rather than being annoying, this is a disturbing, yet effective ploy that he uses sparingly, and which, rather than feeling like a trick, comes off as the most brilliant thing ever attempted.)
-As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner - or for that matter read ANY Faulkner book, just read him for God's sake - he puts Hemingway into left field. Having said that, Ernest is great in his own right but when you want to step away from masculine projection for a chapter or two, read Faulkner!)
-Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)
-The Stand (Stephen King - or, again, pretty much anything by King, especially his older collections like Skeleton Crew - he's vastly underrated even if he DID finally win a much-disputed literary award. If anybody in the academic world ever figures it out, King will be in the college canon, and will be taught in more classes than just his own.)
-Carrion Comfort (Dan Simmons - the darkest, most thought-provoking yet entertaining read I can promise)
-Song of Kali (also by Dan Simmons - this one could have you laying awake sick for days...but if you're up to that, it's fascinating.)

My list could go on and on and on and on and on...but this is a start. I studied both English and Music in college, (only 1,200 students at my school and so we spent a LOT of time in philosphical debate) and yet rather than become snooty and classist about my reading choices, I'm a champion of everything from the classics to pulp fiction. My one sticking point is that everyone deserves to learn to read, and to learn to ENJOY to read.

I am filled with despair and anger at the rate of illiteracy in this country. I also find that school kids are reading so much they DON'T enjoy, and are rarely allowed during school time to read for enjoyment, that they never CHOOSE to read at home because they're too busy or too bored with what they've had to read that day that the last thing they'd want to do is look at another typewritten page, so click goes the TV remote. Other than play music, I will always try to take some of my time and/or money to help literacy and reading programs.

Enough soapbox...

I'm going to go to bed and read...

January 4, 2004

I just returned from a fabulous whirlwind trip down to Nashville to meet with a producer, Matthew Wilder, who will be producing several of my songs for a radio/major label demo I am going to be doing in the month of February.

First of all, for a big city, Nashville is really a small town. I was impressed with the friendliness that surrounded me. Considering how much money and fame has been generated in that town and how much everyone there is striving for SOMETHING, there wasn't the restlessness and snobbery that I expected.

As soon as Steve (acting as a sort of manager for me right now) and I arrived at Matt's house, I had a great feeling. I was greeted by the sweetest bassett hound in the world, who leaped up on me and demanded attention. Matt took us down to his studio, which occupies and lower floor of his house, and I discovered we were definitely in the house of an all-around artist. Not only is he a fantastic writer, producer, and musician, but he's a painter, the evidence of which is all over the walls, on which he has created un underwater world. I'll probably be cutting my vocal tracks next to dolphins and sharks...

Matt played us some of the things he's been working on recently, and I was floored. If you mention a particular style of music, he proves very quickly that he can create that sound effectively and uniquely. I have no doubts he will take my music to new levels.

I also had the pleasure of meeting a songwriting teacher, who makes his living consulting with songwriters all over the world via the telephone. I will hopefully get a chance to speak with him much more, as we only had a few minutes to philosophize about the art of songwriting, and I'd like to get much more specific and get his pointers and tips concerning my own songs.

Here we get to the biggest thing this project will teach me: how to edit and arrange my songs. My songs are organic, and most of them are little babies that grew to be eight feet tall. There's just a little too much for them to fit through the doors of most people's houses (or their ears in this case.) Radio is unfriendly to folks like me, who tend to write ANTHEMS rather than songs! :) On the seven-hour car ride back to Columbia I began the process of thinking about my songs in a different light, prodded on by Steve's questions about lyrical passages and musical themes. I tend to write lots of meaty lyrics, and create four or five important musical themes to most songwriters' one. This almost gives the listener too much to grab onto. Today I sat down, and within an hour had come up with edited and re-arranged versions of eight of my best songs (or what I think to be my best) which are shorter and more radio-friendly, but still retain the meatiest parts of the songs, and remain organic and honest. It is a process of letting go, and challenging myself. It isn't ever going to be a bad thing...the longer versions of these songs will always exist SOMEWHERE (probably in performance) but these new versions might get my ideas and thoughts and music out to many more people.

I can't wait to head down there. We start the project on February 9th and it looks like it will last until the end of the month (20 studio days). I'll be crashed out on the studio futon, living like a starving artist. And I'm thrilled...

January 1, 2004

Wow...I had a great New Year's Eve! The band and I celebrated by performing at the Historic Missouri Theater from 7-8, then we ate, drank a little, and spent time with friends. I have to say, singing in a real theater with amazing acoustics is the best experience. I have missed it since my days of singing classically in college. Back then I almost never used microphones, just sang on beautiful stages with built-in acoustics. Last night I had the best of both worlds with a great sound company running the system, and a beautiful building to perform in. I saw a lot of our friends there, and it cheered me, since I was and am fighting a cold. I made it through nearly two months of touring for gigs, and finally my body is letting go, and saying I'm finally able to get sick without guilt! (GREAT!) Michael noticed that while I was performing last night I looked like I was going to fall over a couple of times, and I felt that way myself. Dizzy and disoriented. But I made it through, and let the music carry me. It was the strangest feeling to wonder if I was going to fall over in my high heels and break my guitar, all the while singing lyrics that are as much a part of me as my fingerprints.

But hey...that makes it sound like my New Year was a wreck, when really it was fantastic. I am so happy that so many community members came out to see the show and I got some new names on my mailing list and distributed some CDs as well. Columbia has been and continues to be such a wonderfully supportive community and I am glad the HSBand got to ring in the new year with our "home" town. (I still miss my family in the Pacific Northwest though - is that okay?) :)