August 13, 2006

Getting back from a long, amazing trip can sometimes be incredibly depressing. I feel overwhelmed by the things I need to catch up on, but ultimately refreshed when I think back to all the wonderful things that happened to me in the past four weeks.

I have some catching up to do! Back in July, BA and I hit the road for Wisconsin, shared driving duties and a hotel room, and a lot of great laughs on our 'northern tour.' Little Feat let us be their guest for their show in Madison at a beautiful theater venue, then the next night we played in Middleton at Club Tavern. The house was pretty full, and some old friends from Chicago surprised me in the crowd, Rob Lampe and his wife Lynn drove up (eight hours) and back in one day just to make that show better - it was three guitars that night - and I marveled at their incredible friendship and devotion to the music. The next day brought us down to Mattoon, Illinois where we enjoyed playing a beautiful evening concert outdoors at Uncommon Ground. We were well fed and coffee-d, and we hope to return to that welcoming little place sometime soon. It was on to Champaign-Urbana the next night. We have several friends in that city due to gigs we've played in the past, and Gary and Dennis were there to cover merch, treat us to dinner (Gary, you're too generous) and make the night smooth. The venue was an outdoor patio with strings of lightbulbs forming a delicate canopy above our heads. We enjoyed sweating out the gig (yep - over ninety degrees at 9pm), staying up very late drinking good beer while Griff continued his DJ services from his laptop computer long after we stopped playing, and staying at his aunt and uncle's house, where we shot BBs, played with the dogs, and bonded.

One short day in Columbia and then Michael and I were off to Hawaii. My grandmother Glenda made the trip with my mom and her husband Pete, and Pete's mother Marie. My sisters Heather and Dede were there, as well as my stepbrother John and his girlfriend Cassandra. Our condo was gorgeous - Michael and I shared a loft with a gecko - he scared me the first time he dropped from the ceiling in the shower, but then I grew accustomed to him! Snorkeling was an almost daily priority, and on our first full day there we lucked onto a beach called Chang beach (discovered in the book Maui Revealed) and just a couple hundred feet offshore, hidden behind a group of rocks, were two huge old souls: sea turtles. I swam among them, close enough to touch a shell, but just observed them in awe as they nibbled at treats on the rocks. My goal for the entire trip was to see sea turtles, so finding them on the first day was perfection. Tattoo number three (and last?) might have to be a tribal sea turtle - I find them to be a connection to calm, peace and wisdom. We took the road to Hana on the third day and found a couple hidden pools where the natives go. At one of them we saw some nudists singing - we listened and swam with them (in suits :)) and then went to another place called Venus Pool. We felt like trespassers as we jumped through a fence, walked in a wheat field for a couple hundred yards, past an old abandoned bread oven, and down some steep rocks which opened into the most amazing 'swimming hole' we'd ever seen. Michael was able to cliff dive (there were perches as low as six feet and as high as thirty or forty for us to jump from) and the water was so deep that even with its clarity you couldn't see the bottom. Although the car ride home from Hana made me sick, I had some Dramamine on hand and survived! The next day we went sailing on a catamaran that had been built especially for the cove in which it sailed daily; it traveled over 20 knots (faster than most racing vessels) while we were on it getting showered and bounced by the waves and holding on for dear life - what a thrill! Although I once had a scary run-in with a catamaran, I enjoyed every minute of this adventure, and we snorkeled at Molikini with some amazing schools of colored fish, eels and other sea creatures. (My fin managed to do some damage to my heel; it scrubbed off an inch-long and half-inch wide portion of skin over my achilles tendon - I had to use Chacos as fins for the rest of the trip - the sore is just now healing almost three weeks later!) Evenings often found us playing dominoes or sitting and reading with the family, (cocktails in hand) or even trading the salt of the ocean for the chlorine of the condo's pool and the amazing breezes that would wash over us from the beach. We did our fair share of eating too - discovering one of the THE best sushi places Michael and I have ever eaten at! We couldn't have had this most perfect of vacations without the help of my mom and Pete who helped with expenses all over the place. Thanks, guys! This will always rank as one of the best times of my life. There was so much more - Big Mama's Fish House, best ice-cream sandwich ever, hippie town Paia, amazing sunrises, and a rooster that woke us up every morning before the sun - but mostly it was some of the best family time I've had in a while. Being around my sister, mom and grandmother at one time was reminiscent of family gatherings when I was a child - it was incredibly special. I could go on for hours - but I'd better not!

Then came opening for Tanya Tucker at the Sandpoint fetival - something we've been anticipating and looking forward to for months now. Right before we left, our bassist Mike Robertson got sick and couldn't make the trip. We missed him very much, but lucked out by catching Jeff Mueller and Ruth Acuff of the band Rutherford before they left on a trip to the east coast and inviting them to come along and share bassist duties. Michael, BA, Griff, Jeff, Ruth, our publicist and 'merch supervisor' Melissa, and myself piled into the fifteen-passenger Ford with instruments and luggage for a week (we must have re-packed the van five times before we figured out how to get it all in) and headed out west. The entire trip was 30 hours, but we stopped in Fort Collins to party with my sisters Heather and Dede and about forty of their closest friends! A rehearsal there at their house turned into an impromptu performance, and we had a fantastic time playing and partying. After two restful nights there in Colorado, we finished the next eighteen hours of the trip with Michael at the helm. He's a driving maniac!(Backtracking a bit, let's give a round of applause to Michael for being the most excellent captain of that ship - he got us safely though a blown tire in Kansas - scary as hell, let me tell you I screamed! Apparently, the pavement was too hot for peoples' tires - we saw evidence of more than thirty blown tires as we made our way through that hot, long state!) Griff's computer became a makeshift movie screen and Office Space and Mr. and Mrs. Smith accompanied us for part of the long drive. We talked about songs, chords, arrangements, set lists a bit as we drove, but mostly looked forward to arrival and some sleep. Arriving in the dark of night, nobody could tell just how paradisical Sandpoint Idaho is, but the shock of 45 degrees after having been in 100-plus heat earlier in the day was incredible. The next morning, everyone oooh-ed and aah-ed at the view of the incredible Lake Pend O'Reille from my grandmother's comfortable lakefront cabin. My dad and stepmother Robin had set us up with a stocked refrigerator, we had cards and poker chips, a dock, beer, and when we weren't rehearsing with a mountain view, we were swimming, sunning, kayaking, hiking. (Several of the band members went huckleberry picking on Schweitzer). It was truly paradise. Thursday night, Robin and Dad threw a BBQ party for many friends, neighbors and family members, and the band members couldn't tell me enough how welcomed they felt. Press poured in; the Spokesman Review, the Daily Bee and the Sandpoint Reader ran nice half-page photo ads and I got a great interview in the Reader. We were told this festival hasn't sold out pre-show since 2001; our show (OK it was Tanya's too!) of over 4000 people was sold out long before Friday the 4th. We were treated like kings and queens in our air-conditioned trailer with food, beer, bed, private bath, and massage therapist on hand. The crowd lapped it up; we all felt high after performing, then gorged on catered gourmet food, and I mingled with the crowd, signed CDs, and basked in the feeling of playing at a festival I've dreamed of being part of for years. Several friends and family members who have never seen me perform were able to be at this show, and that was probably the highlight of this experience for me. I can't thank friends and family enough for helping make this all happen, selling merchandise at the show, and supporting us. It took a village to make this the awesome experience it was for everyone involved. I will write a part 2 of this soon - there is much more to the story, and the fact that I stayed an extra week in Idaho after the show and got to see David Grey in concert is something I definitely want to write about. Let's see, meeting Tanya Tucker, baking biscotti, visiting Grandma, seeing my cousin and her daugher Rowan, my aunt's connections, and more! If I write the keywords down, perhaps I won't forget, and perhaps it will get you back on here to read the next update! For now, my fingers are cramping! More soon.... :)

July 26, 2006

July blog here I come! Things I need to remember to write about when I get a chance:

Four-day tour of the northern states!

Tattoos, mai tais, snorkeling and sea turtles in Hawaii!

Preparation for Tanya Tucker opening (one fun little hint - our monitor man just finished a stint doing sound for Pearl Jam and our front-of-house sound man often mixes for Pavarotti - should be some good sound, huh?)

Best fish around

Overcoming my fears of catamarans


All for now - have to write myself reminder notes or you'll never hear the whole story!

June 25, 2006

Two blogs in three days - it's a veritable rainshower of words! OK - just had to kid around since everyone's always on me about writing in the blog more. I have found undeniable reason to today, since 'coincidence' (which I believe is always just a convenient word used to describe something much more important) slapped me right between the eyes today as I was sitting and eating my lunch and reading 'Hammer of the Gods' for the third time.

Those of you who've read the book will understand the following story in greater depth, but for those of you who haven't read this book, if you're a Led Zeppelin fan, or a blues lover in general, you should read this book. It not only details the Zeppelin 'myth' (and some of their truths) in detail, but it outlines the birth and lifeline of blues and how it has influenced so many different styles of music from rockabilly to metal. Good read....

In any case, while digging into a tuna salad sandwich, I was just at the point in the book where they talk about the profound influence Robert Johnson has had on music, as the father of Delta blues. BOOM! First hit of 'coincidence' lands a right hook! Last night, we played at Knuckleheads in Kansas City on their outdoor stage. Following our set, which ended at 11:20, Honeyboy Edwards, the last living link to Robert Johnson, and in his early nineties, was to play a set on the indoor stage. It was legendary, and here I was reading about the 'school' he came from, and the very musicians he played with. Earlier in the night, the soundman, Pete, had said I might have to sit in and accompany Honeyboy with a little keyboard - he ended up bringing someone with him, but I came THIS close to playing with Honeyboy.

The other interesting moment of serendipity was that Van Morrison is only mentioned once in the book, and I was sitting in a restaurant that was playing an 'oldies' station. Right as my eyes scanned his name, a Van Morrison song started to play. I take these things seriously - so is this telling me I'm in the right place at the right time?

Whether it's by luck or design, we've found ourselves on a very cool blues circuit in the company of some of the best bands around. The Bel Airs played Knuckleheads the night before us, and we share a show with them and Dave Alvin next Wednesday in front of the Blue Note. In our own way, we're doing the kind of networking that these bands in the biographies I read were doing when they were struggling up through the ranks. I don't for a second intend to compare myself to the legends of music like Zeppelin and Clapton or anyone else for that matter - but it's interesting how there really is a pattern to the work and results you achieve in this business of music. You take the raw material and you mix it with stick-with-it-ness, luck, timing, and the constant small steps you are taking as you meet people who can help you with the next leap.

Jimmy Page hung out and played with Jeff Beck and Steve Winwood and the Stones and Eric Clapton before these people were known. They played colleges and dance halls and state fairs and sometimes crummy bars. They didn't always have energy, they got tired, they kicked their amps off the stage when they malfunctioned, dealt with problem crowds and crooked venue owners. Who was it who said music is such a noble art and such a sad profession?

By the way - last night everyone was calling for me to play more fiddle. The devil is commonly painted (whether visually or simply in lyrics to a blues song) as a fiddler. Does this mean my band is at the delta crossroads waiting for our guitars to be tuned by the devil? Is the soul-trade the only way to make it? :) OK - not so fast there! Read the book and you will know of what myth I speak - I've not yet been approached by a cloven-hooved man hoping to re-string my guitar, although there have been plenty of people with promises of fame and glory! I think it all boils down to old-fashioned hard work. I think it's paying off - I see exciting things happening in 2006, and in case I don't say it enough, if you're taking the time to read this blog, you've either played an important part in helping me, (so THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU) or you're lurking on the net and have too much time on your hands. :) (OK - if you are reading this by happenstance, I thank you too - now go buy a CD!)

June 22, 2006

Just spent a fascinating two hours driving around with my friend and harmonica-player, Griff. We were listening to the Volume 1 live cuts CD and after every few songs, as part of a 'mini pub crawl' we'd stop and grab a brew. Mostly it was fascinating conversation - I realize time and again how lucky I am to have the great guys I have in my band not only as fellow musicians, but as dear friends.

Michael and I were talking the other day about how, if we step back and really look at things objectively, the last two months have signaled a changing tide in this 'business of music.' All of a sudden things are exploding - and I'm holding on for the ride, grinning from ear to ear as the wind whips me around, a punch-drunk smile plastered on my face from the exhileration of yet another loop-de-loop.

Certainly a focus of my excitement is the upcoming Festival at Sandpoint (Friday August 4th) at which we will have the opportunity to open for Tanya Tucker. While we've opened for people whom I consider legends in their own right (Little Feat and Beth Orton among them) it seems to be now that everyone is oohing and aaahing! :)Our desire to break into the elusive and elite festival circuit seems to be coming to fruition. I have wanted to play in the Festival at Sandpoint, not only because it's a fabulous well-known festival, but because it takes place in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and my family and friends are nearby and will finally have the chance to see me play. (Many of them have not seen me in live concert since I moved so far away from the northwest).

Tonight is one of those nights where I sit back, and in full beer-soaked appreciation (I promise I am not drunk - but the beer was delicious) I realize that the dreams I've had, by day, by night, or in my secret heart, are coming true on a daily basis.

SEH - you are watching over me, Magellan. I know this all is because of you.

May 5, 2006

Colin Hay sings in my ear....

I drink good coffee every morning
Comes from a place that's far away
And when I'm done I feel like talking
Without you here there is less to say
Don't want you thinking I'm unhappy
What is closer to the truth
Is that if I live 'til I was a hundred and two
I just don't think I'll ever get over you

Wow...I love music. I am reflecting on the trip my band and I took two weekends ago. We played West Plains Friday night, Houston Saturday night, and Earth Day in Columbia Sunday afternoon. To bring so much music to so many people in such a concentrated period of time brought home to me that THIS IS IT! Touring is exhausting but thrilling....

The theater in West Plains was beautiful and modern, the crowd was beautiful and timeless. I am constantly honored by the opportunity to play my music for people, and consistently shocked by the capacity of the heart to embrace it.

The local commercial radio station interviewed me, played a couple of my songs, and also ran a station-identification promo for me all the next day, two times an hour, as an advertisement for my Houston show that night. It was great to get such support. The band was ON...almost all of our Floating World CDs were sold that night on the basis of how we performed 'Gravity' that night.

We stayed that night after the West Plains show with a friend of ours, Spencer, who took us to a little house in Van Buren, in a beautiful tree-filled plain. We were up until the wee hours driving there, and then eating cardboard box pizza (no food had ever tasted so delicious at that point) and then we crashed. The next day Spencer took us to this amazing Spring (Big Springs was the name, I think) which is this gigantic rush of gorgeous blue water... while I've heard many people say they feel small and insignificant around natural wonders such as this, I instead feel an incredible calm at the purposefulness of everything around us. Small we are....insignificant, no.

Saturday night in Houston was something special. I will never forget it. It was in an old church, hence the name 'Stained Glass Theater.' Unfortunately, our show was to be the last in this venue. (Not enough community support to justify the renewed grant, plus the owners of the church were moving elsewhere - arts must be supported -it's dire!) The crowd was immediately responsive and it was so comfortable playing for them. As soon as I said 'good evening', they said 'good evening' right back, much as you might imagine a church congregation responding to a pastor's welcome. From then on out we were like old friends. At one point my voice failed me (I sprouted a cold the next day) and I re-started a song. I've never had to do that in a show, and rather than feeling mortified, these people made me feel it ENHANCED the show...they clapped laughed and supported. A highlight of the evening was being offered an artist's trade: my CDs and a tee-shirt for a beautiful hand-etched silver bracelet. I've worn that bracelet almost every day since.

I learned a lot about my two band-mates BA and Rob on that trip; Rob likes to eat lots of junk food when travelling, and BA doesn't love it when other people drive! But you know, we got along well - they really took care of me. I felt so good that this time around I could actually pay them well (these gigs were through the Missouri Arts Council, hence grants paid us nicely) but I also realized they will suffer almost anything, for little to no pay, just to play music with me. I couldn't ask for anything fact, it'd be a SIN to do so! :)

Earth Day was a glowing example of all that is right with Columbia. The park was full, the sound was great, Loyd was back onstage with us (I have missed him) and the weather was heavenly.

Since then we also played the Hep C awareness gig at the Martini Bar, and met a very nice group called Kelly's Lot who has invited us out to LA in October to play a telethon and also to perform in some cities around the LA area, through their connections. It is great to start networking like this, but more importantly I so respect these people for bringing awareness through music, and using their talent to put as much good into the world as possible.

This week I will be heading to Nashville - a solid week of writing sessions and recording vocal tracks. There is some possiblity of one of the tracks being shopped to movie soundtracks - always a great way to get 'discovered' and make some money so I can keep touring. We shall see how it goes.

Now it's Simon and Garfunkel:
Tom, get your plane-ride on time
I know your part'll go fine

Until next time!

April 9, 2006

I do belive 2006 is shaping up to be the busiest year of my life thus far. The pace of travelling back and forth to Nashville, the increasing amount of gigs we are hired to play, the dual studio projects I am working on, the appointments and rehearsals and meetings put all of those college exams and term papers I completed to shame! OK - different things entirely, I admit - but I have never been busier...and I am loving every second of it!

I don't know how many life-changing experiences or 'firsts' I've had since the birth of this year which I have failed to write about, but I do know that I can count among them: 1.The best live concert I've ever seen (Sigur Ros at the Pageant in St. Louis) 2. The first co-writing project I've ever undertaken (Matthew Wilder in Nashville - also have had the chance to write with some 'Nashville royalty' - more on that in a future blog) 3. Hiring a new promoter/booking agent (Melissa) and starting to work again with a great one I had been working with previously (Tim) 4. Two albums being written, produced, and recorded concurrently (or as close to concurrent as you can get without two sets of vocal chords) 5. Being featured on the cover of a magazine

So, there's more I could list, but lists are shallow and limiting - and I don't have anywhere near enough time to give enough attention to each of these subjects. I just realize that life is full, and I am often tired, but it's the best kind of fatigue I've ever known because I truly feel as though this road is leading somewhere exciting.

On March 25th, our band had one of their most successful gigs ever at the Martini Bar. Whether aliens snuck into our bedrooms the night before and implanted mind-reading chips in our brains as part of an experiment that allowed us to anticipate each others' every note or we were just ON - may never be known. What IS known is that every song that night had a special vibe - like playing them for the first time.

A week prior to that show, I had another special 'first' at the Mountain Music Shoppe in Shawnee, KS. My mother and sister were in town visiting, which was special enough in and of itself, but they attended the gig, which doubled the fun. (None of us were chewing Doublemint, but we had a great time.) The venue, small and intimate, and truly meant to be a 'listening room' provided us with a fantastic live recording of myself, Michael, and BA, and some truly heartfelt versions of songs we've played hundreds of times. The concept of building your fan base one person at a time was alive and well at that show, as many of the people from the Kansas City area who have expressed a love of my music at one time or another over the last five years made an effort to come to that little show. Also - if I didn't mention it before (I might be repeating myself) we had Jim Curley up onstage to give one of his world-class spoons performances. How awesome!

This past Thursday we opened for Lizzie West at the Martini Bar - it was, as usual, a very fun night. While I was there, I was handed a cell phone by Blues Man B and told that Kelly from California was wanting my band to be part of an upcoming (April 29th) benefit for Hep C and AIDS awareness. Needless to say, despite hoping we don't overstay our welcome at the Martini Bar with the many appearances we've made there as of late, we will be part of that fundraiser for a very important cause.

Richard King (owner of Blue Note and MoJo's) also got a hold of me and asked us to be part of the 9th Street concert series this summer, which will be a fabulous triple-billing including the Bel-Airs and another well known group out of LA. More to come on that! Further, Tim got us a return booking with the Shelter Gardens concert series that we enjoyed so much last summer. I won't for a split-second complain about the busy schedule - this is what I live for!

Finally - although October seems months away (oh wait - it IS months away!) :) it will come sooner than we imagine and we are frenetically planning for our CD release(s) in the fall by even at this very moment coming up with great promotional packages with oodles of goodies for fans. People will have the opportunity to pre-purchase the CD, get a copy of a never-before and never-again released compilation of live performances, get a t-shirt of their choice (our new design is way cool and comes in two different styles, three color choices of each style) poster, another fun item (still in the works) a ticket to the release party and a ticket to a special party for only those people who purchase this package, meant to give them a chance to hang out with the band and receive their copies of the CD weeks before it's available to the public, eat some catered food and drink some good wine out at the Courtyard Winery....PLUS the final fun feature: their names in the CD acknowledgments for being a Road to Hope 'roadie.' It's going to be a very fun deal.....

Alright, I'm sleepy. It's SO early by Hilary time (not even 9pm) but time is different here in Nashville - and creative energy oozes out my pores and saps me dry.

To you all a goodnight.

March 10, 2006

Wow - I am quite literally a woman obsessed. Having seen none of the Oscar-nominated movies this year (except Harry Potter - I NEVER get to the theater anymore) I was unbiased as I watched the awards ceremony. Then I saw 'Walk the Line.'

Regardless of the speculation over whether Reese Witherspoon deserved the best actress win or not, I have to say I am completely blown away by Phoenix as Johnny Cash. (His competition was formidable and I'm certain deserving of the win, but I can tell he put his all into this role). And OK, maybe I'm just the slightest bit 'in crush' over the incredible love story those two portrayed. It is interesting how the very passionate, other-worldly love stories are always the ones that go against everything we are told is 'healthy' and 'reasonable,' and yet it is those stories that survive and inspire. I also felt compassion for John's early family life - nothing I will go into now or ever on this blog, (more than just the death of his brother was familiar to me) I'm afraid, but let's just say I related in a way I didn't anticipate. Look for at least one Johnny Cash cover in future shows - I repeat - I am a woman obsessed.

My latest trip to Nashville was very short, as I arrived there several days later than anticipated due to my attendance at the funeral of my great aunt. It was a bittersweet affair, for I 'reunited' with family I barely ever knew. Here I am only a couple hours' drive away from so many of my relatives - and yet it seemed blind fate that brought me to Missouri. How small the world is and how by design do our lives seem, the older I get.

In any case, Nashville was a successful three days. Matt and I went into the studio with Gary Lunn and Lonnie Wilson. My project is the first to be recorded in Lonnie's new home studio. I've been awed by the musicians in Nashville many a time, but Lonnie is arguably not only one of the best drummers in the world, but also one of the best and most successful songwriters, and he and Gary are two of the nicest people around. I sat back and listened as I was given hours of ear candy in the form of their delicious playing. I am incredibly pleased with the progress of the songs Matt and I are co-writing, and I look forward to seeing how everything turns out.

Tomorrow the band and I perform at Luna Fair - but it will not be the whole family. Loyd, who is incredibly busy as of late will not be able to make it, and my thoughts are with Matt, our harmonica player, as his father is ill in the hospital, and we are worried for him. I hope it is not out-of-line for me to put this on my blog, but let's just view it as a public prayer for his father's recovery. We will miss both these guys - truly brothers to me - tomorrow.

One more day to do what I love with people I love - let that always be enough.

February 5, 2006

Well, I promised at least some more discussion on the songwriting progress here in Nashville, but I have to begin by saying my precious Seahawks lost the Superbowl a few short minutes ago, and I'm sad. They played very well though, and the teams were evenly matched. I don't have any hard feelings against the Steelers, but as much as everyone raved about their defense, I have to say that Seattle's defense was great too, and there were some bad calls made tonight that hurt them pretty badly. dice this year. My boys in blue did their best. I've never been a big sports fan, but the '05 baseball season was exciting as I was allowed to be an honorary Sox fan for Michael's sake. Then, when the playoffs started for football, I was rooting consecutively for the Bears and the Seahawks to do well (Not to be sexist but I guess it seems like women can get away with having such traitorous feelings, our ambivalence is more 'allowable' - men are more die-hard about their teams!?) and I was pleased they made it to the Superbowl at all.

On to music. The writing process, as I think I mentioned a bit in yesterday's blog, is very different when writing with someone else. I've always written my own material exclusively, and the only person I've ever used as a sounding-board on a few occasions is Michael. I never thought that co-writing would allow for songs to remain personal, since no two people can share the exact same experience, or view something exactly the same way. However, having said that, there's a beauty to the discipline co-writing requires. The one goal Matt and I are trying to achieve with these songs we are doing is to push me into popular territory so that once I've been noticed or established on a larger scale, my other original songs can gain a wider audience as well. Wrapped up inside that goal is the absolute intention to retain my artistic integrity, which is a dime-a-dozen term that is thrown out there a lot these days, but which is the best term I can think of to express what I'm feeling.

When we start a song, we actually go for a rhythm track first. We're using rhythm samples from the best programs in the world. We layer and edit them for a precise feel, even choosing a tempo for the loop. Honestly, as the songs are now, they remind one more of Moby than, say, Sarah McLachlan. We're using a lot of inorganic sounds to create an intense feel, but when the songs are actually recorded, most of the tracks we are writing will be re-recorded with acoustic instruments, so the drive will remain, but the feeling will become more organic. The rhythm tends to draw a certain 'feeling' out, leading us to either pick up a guitar, or lean into the keyboard. Once the chord progression starts to take shape, we tweak it little-by-little as each of us come up with ideas. Generally, Matt will sit and play our chord progression over and over again, as I start taking notes on lyrical ideas and I pick up the little hand-held tape recorder and hum melodies into it as they come to me. Concurrently, we're building the format for the song. NEVER before have I worried about song format. I understand various song formats, I've read about them, analyzed them, and basically thrown them out the window when it comes to my own music. My songs speak through me - I've never been all that disciplined about tearing them apart and shuffling them around to fit the commercial format. However, amazingly, it does lend a certain freedom to the process when you start only with a musical concept, and immediately force yourself to decide how many bars of a certain theme you're going to allow for a verse, whether you're going to put in a bridge or simply tag a different theme onto the end, etc. Depending on how long your melodic ideas are, much of the format 'places' itself. Once things feel right, (and keep in mind we're checking the 'clock' to see if we sit in prime radio-length real estate) you start finalizing and refining the melodic ideas you've been tossing around. The lyrics have been coming last. I had thought that lyrics would be the most difficult, and in some ways they are, but NOT for the reason I had anticipated. Generally I have been throwing out a nearly completed line, and then we refine them together. I've enjoyed the way that having another person there allows you to discuss the direction of the song, make sure you're sticking to the theme, etc. It's been interesting, and incredibly enjoyble. I can't believe how different and yet still MY style the songs are...I am really glad I'm having the opportunity to do this with Matt. I've probably made this sound like a science, not very romantic at all, but for all my worries about being stymied and feeling like these songs have no hart, I find the creative thrill is very much alive even in writing songs this way.

The differences in the above-described process from my usual process are: I never worry about form when starting a song; I almost always have separate lyrical and melodic and chordal concepts running around separately in my head and marry them later when something suddenly 'clicks'; I never take notes or discuss my ideas or themes, lyrics usually are spit out of me rapidly after an experience or feeling occurs about which I feel compelled to write; and I never worry about how long or short the song is. I find value in both methods, structured, unstructured, disciplined or entirely free.

We will probably have most of three songs done and a fourth song started by the end of this trip. On my next trip, which will be either late March or early April, we will finish writing, and also start laying down the final tracks on these songs. I have a feeling things will continue to be altered long-distance as the songs have a chance to sit like a good stew. The lyrics, in particular, will probably go through several more iterations.

Well - I'm off to get a good night's sleep. I am so energized during our sessions and then all of a sudden my body lets me know I've been using more energy than I thought I had. Good night....

February 4, 2006

Wow! Here I am in Nashville with some time to spare between writing sessions, thinking about how amazingly this year has begun.

The first thing that comes to mind is the show we played in Versailles, MO at the Royal Theater, which I don't think I will ever forget. If I could spend an entire year travelling to little cities of this size and play shows for crowds this friendly and appreciative, I would actually consider it an ideal way to tour. I've played for bigger crowds (the theater holds 300 and was nearly full) but rarely has the entire experience seemed so...easy, and completely centered around the art.

When we arrived, we met Elvin, who helped us load in our gear, and along with his son and daughter, mixed our sound. His family is full of accomplished bluegrass musicians, so we were working with people who understood our needs, were efficient and responsive, and utterly friendly. The theater, which was a converted movie theater and still had the decorative neon lights along the aisle walls and a big black velvet curtain in front of which we played, was beautiful. It is now a playhouse and performing arts theater, so we had a huge green room/dressing room, (hot water from the sink to warm our hands!) and was connected to a large storefront next door where they do art shows and community events. There was a stained glass art exhibit the night we played so all the season ticket holders browsed through the art next door and partook of snacks and beverages before heading to our show.

We planned an intense two hour set. The crowd was also interested in hearing a little about me, where my career is headed, where I'm from, and the stories behind my songs. It was such a refreshing change of pace to play to an audience where - no exaggeration - you could hear a needle drop. It was also - no kidding - a bit disconcerting. Every slip of finger on string, every flick of the Djembe, every step, every sniffle, every cough, every whisper of my breath, was heard. As a performer you become more conscious, and it draws more out of you, but you also have to be careful not to become SELF-conscious in the extreme, which is difficult when suddenly everything that is normally muffled by the drone of clinking classes and filtered through the haze of cigarette smoke is suddenly crystal clear and Dolby.

I played only with Michael and BA, and we really played to each other's strengths. The songs were allowed to beathe in that sparser surrounding, and the recording of the night turned out really well. I wouldn't be surprised if some of those cuts end up as bonus tracks on the fan club site or elsewhere.

The trip itself was memorable, because we also had our photographer Kevin Dingman along for the ride, and his sense of humor lends a whole new ambience to the experience. (And let's not take for granted the fact that he continually and uncomplainingly donates his time to photograph us - any of you who've visited the website have seen much of his work). Three of my longtime listeners (and now friends) from Columbia, Mark, Melissa, and Jeannine, went out of their way not only to attend the show but to sell merchandise for me. I KNOW I'm not very good at selling and promoting my own music - I don't know what that says about me, but I have a hard time doing it for some reason - but these three are a force to be reckoned with. Since many in the audience were of an age where I didn't anticipate they'd feel the need to take the CD home with them, I was pelased and surprised at the great sales, and it's due to Jeannine, Melissa, and Mark. I know I say it ad nauseum, but I am blessed beyond measure for the people who surround me and believe in me.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the evening was finding a little local restaurant at which to eat dinner. It's the type of place where you've got to try the special because you know you've never tasted anything like it and never will again - each small town seems to have a slightly different take on something you've eaten thousands of times in your life. To the rear of our table sat Elvin and his family, so we ocassionally bantered over our shoulders at them. Right as we got up to leave, a group of four friendly retirees at the table to our right who had been eating their dinners unassumingly said to me, "don't start the show before we get there!" I figure about half of the people eating there that night were headed to our show afterward (and yes, they knew who I was)! You can't PLAN that kind of was too cool.

This year is also starting out well, as we got booked to play Senator Chuck Graham's birthday party at MoJo's, started a new recording project with the Hilary Scott Band, and finalized the publishing deal (which I am this very day working on) in Nashville with Matthew Wilder, among other things. I am hoping to write about our first recording session at the Bridge Studio and the current Nashville project today or tomorrow when I get more time to blog; you might hear more blabber from me than you have in a while, which could be good or bad, you choose. Right now I am planning on watching a brainless flick so I am fresh for tomorrow. We've been spending 8 hours each day writing, finishing a song a day - and laying tracks at the same time. It's intense, but invigorating. I never knew creativity 'on demand' could actually be so nearly effortless. Ironic, eh?

GO SEAHAWKS! (I might be watching the SuperBowl with Nashville singer-songwriter Steff Mahan who I just met at the recent Columbia show she played at MoJo's - she's a peach to invite me when she doesn't know me from Eve, but hey, I can't celebrate alone!)

January 2, 2006

OK - I deserve to be drawn and quartered, or at the very least flogged a bit, for my complete lack of attention to this blog spot. I apologize, because so much has happened. The end of the year flew by in a blur or shows; December was amazing with another incredible Martini Bar show, an appearance at the University of Missouri bookstore, a private party at Grindstone Fitness studio which was incredibly fun, and of course the amazing First Night celebration we played just two nights ago at the Historic Missouri Theater.

Michael and I spent quite a bit of time contemplating the set list for that show, and after viewing the videtape taken of the show, I don't think it could have gone better. Here is the list:

Blind Me
Sugar Bomb
Road to Hope
Long Ride Home
You Electrify Me

The energy flowed perfectly, and as the theater was nearly full, the crowd was noisy and appreciative, which made me feel like a million bucks. Despite having had a rough, stressful day, and having just gotten back from Chicago late the night before, I can honestly say it was one of my best performances in months. Adding to the night was the fact that someone who has heard me play 2 or 3 times in Champaign-Urbana (his name is Gary, by the way!) drove down through St. Louis, picked up a friend of his, and the two attended our show. Not only were they pleased to see us play, but they had great things to say about the city of Columbia's First Night celebration overall. Columbia may be small, but we are blessed with a plethora of things to do, and great people who support the arts and the artists that create them.

After our show, we were feeling a little high (au naturale of course) and we headed to a party we had been invited to several weeks before. We had trouble not going to 3 other parties we'd also hoped to attend, but the night is only so long. We ended up at Danielle Johnson's home, where we ate great food (hmmmmm....can we say it was my last chance to gorge before my New Year's resolution, which happens to be the same every year, takes over?) drank amazing alcoholic concoctions, watched and sang along with some funky karaoke, and eventually ended up outside, in a car, listening to incredibly great music, very loudly, on the stereo. What I love about the Rubins and the Johnsons (Danielle was a maiden Rubin and is now a married Johnson - and by the way, her husband Sephus is a total sweetheart too) is that, like me, much of their lives revolve around music, literature, and the arts in general. You don't have to worry about small talk with these people, there is always something of depth to discuss. And Jason, Danielle's brother, and I, always trade suggestions for great music. My life is so much better for knowing these people (and my other friends whom I've met through Oakland - Leia, Helen, Lori, the list goes on!).

As for 2006 - it has entered with a bang, and I sense great things on the horizon. We have started brainstorming our band's upcoming recording project, which will begin within the next 2 months. The song list is difficult to pare down, since I have many new songs and a handful of highly-demanded covers that could be included. But we will persevere! We hope to pre-sell the CDs, plus a limited-edition t-shirt, plus inclusion in the CD credits plus a private invitation to a pre-CD-release party with the band and other people who've bought the 'package' plus who knows what else, for interested persons.

I should also be heading to Nashville before February comes to begin the next project with my producer, if all goes well.

I know I am forgetting much, but my computer is slowing down and I am concerned that perhaps it will cut me off before I have published this blog. I think there must be a small, but very hungry animal living in my hard drive, whose primary diet is ram. I will, as always, try to write more soon. Sorry!