From a cozy little hotel on the shore of Lake Michigan, I wind down a love filled holiday which consisted of family visits, plane rides, and walks along Chicago’s snow dusted streets. There was little bustle anywhere but for the homes where young ones wrestled with paper and packaging. I enjoy the otherwise calm of the holidays. In the quiet hours I drink tea and sip warm soup in gratitude for the accomplishment of another year’s adventure, for my kin and my friends. The warmth matches the feeling of the heart; a feeling that all is right in the world as long as I have love to share and people to share it with.
Thank you for being in my life and giving me the blessing of another beautiful Christmas.
If you can imagine, I receive many requests to support & promote friends’ bands, tours, albums, etc. Many of those requests come through crowd funding sites. I do typically sign up and support, though most always anonymously, and I seldom forward a fundraising request to my readers, unless I believe there is a worthwhile connection to be made between the art and your heart.
Below is an invitation to participate in The Day Of Inner Peace, on October 27th in Los Angeles. Please watch the video below to learn more. The opening sequence alone is worth it. If we want world peace, we have to begin within. The second video offers a little more about the teachers and the purpose.
Monday. Arrive in Moscow. Exit the airport. Breathe again. Notice as you board your bus, Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter-dubbed-fastest-person-ever is passing you on his way into the terminal. He is tall and moves slow with a long gait and swagger. A kind of statement-walk that says, I’m in no hurry. I decide in that moment I am also in no hurry. But that I lack swagger.
Tuesday August 20th: Showtime Moscow. 9-11pm. It kicks ass. A sweaty club-show that felt like old times. Like Minneapolis in our hey day. It’s a huge departure from the separation arenas and festivals create between audience and band. The crowd bombards the stage with heat seeking paper airplanes during Plane. I am lit up. We get back to the hotel by midnight, still ablaze with energy. I draw a bath. Soak. and Skype home to simulate the effect of being near. With a little more than an hour’s rest, we check-out at 330am and board a sketchy van with a scary driver who refuses to drive until all of our hand-bags are in the trunk. Red neon lights from a worn-out casino illuminate the scene. Our driver is grumpy. We don’t understand him, but figure it out what we wants by playing an irritating version of charades. Then we let him drive us for more than an hour. It feels like a dream but it is not a dream. I give myself up to my ambivalent-higher-power and do my best to relax as he and many other cars create their own rules and limits for the road. We have begun our commute to Poland. It is still dark, but it is already another show day. We get our boarding-passes and body-scans and connect through Berlin. This gives us two flights to accumulate sleep credits. For the crew, this is all they’ll get as they forever remain the first to arrive and the last to leave. I read on the plane a news story about a young banker who dies from working too many all-nighters; a reportedly 72 hour shift. I am concerned for my crew’s well-being and wonder if I am a tyrant of a lesser-degree. I’m too delirious to pass good judgment, so like tackling many of the world’s problems, I decide to put it off and address it later.
Wednesday August 21st: Continuation of travel day/show day Warsaw, Poland. I forget what I wanted to address and steal a 3-hour nap at a hotel before proceeding to venue for sound-check and interviews. Mona and I tip-toe over a few new songs while I impose ancient titles on her. The gig is reminiscent of the old days, but it stings like a new day. There are struggles, small losses and barely visible victories, which is what the early days were about: gigging to find yourself. I am happy it still exists and haven’t given in entirely to a script. I even manage to slip into a musical-meditation a few times during the show, but transcendence through any activity is tough to maintain. My sweat-soaked shirt reminds me I’m working. I decide I have no style.
Occasionally my mind starts asking my mouth what it’s talking about. Duality is alive and well within my vessel. I must’ve been hired take them somewhere. I feel my attitude changing. I feel my age. My dream to sing & be financially sound is disillusioned by time-travel, out-of-date narcissism, industry politics, and getting what you wish for. I drift off in song and fantasize about my next life set to classical music in a not-too-distant future, where perhaps I’ve retired from the hustle and grind, taken some cooking classes, maybe a woodworking or engine-building class, maybe have a yoga teaching certificate, more cats, have grown a beard, have grown some balls, and are trying to figure out what to do with my foundation. We blow through 2 hours of music with little break. Whether lost in meditation or contemplation. I decide it was a fun gig. I also decide to recommit to Emerson’s description of success:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure betrayal of false friends; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a happy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
– Taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Bestselling Audio-book, Brilliant Shit Too Long to Tweet.
Thursday August 22nd: We’re allowed to sleep-in and squeeze-in a look-around old-town Warsaw. It’s quaint. It’s scarred. But it’s welcoming. Its buildings wear old clothes; pre and post-war. Warsaw is still recovering, but it could very soon pass as another fantastical suburb of Disneyland. Ice cream is for sale everywhere! Moscow on the other hand, I would reduced to just being the It’s-A-Small-World ride, but without the peace, love and tolerance. The Polish are very nice and the young people are steadily pushing the country along with modern freedoms and participation. Making up for lost time. I cross paths with other journeymen in the square. We take a few minutes and exchange hugs, FAQ’s, and photographs. One remarkably nervous young man tells me how he hitchhiked 2000 miles from France to attend last night’s show. I can’t imagine what that’s like. I decide I’m spoiled.
By midday we leave for the airport again. Passport control gives a thorough examination of my document with a look of confusion, no doubt caused by the zig-zag and spontaneity of my route. Today I am off to Thailand. But not without doing a phone interview at the airport. And two more phoners while connecting through London. I decide I loathe interviews. Any question pertaining to music or performance is a suggestion that art is finite and can actually be explained. I feel foolish whenever I try, no matter how close to the heart I may manage a quip.
We fly 11 hours to Bangkok. I watch a documentary on the band Journey. I decide I am a Journey fan.
Friday August 23rd: Thailand Sound-Check Day: We walk right off the plane into a press conference in the airport. I am groggy and somewhat dehydrated. I feel like an ass. I must look like an ass. I’m certain I smell like ass. I pray my many passages through duty-free have provided a cheap-fragrant cover. I am greeted by two very tall Thai models who adorn me with a flower garland. I smell better. I bow in reverence for the opportunity to be here and say a few confused words into a bouquet of microphones. We drive straight to the venue to load-in for the next big bang. It’s pouring. Some trucks on the freeway haul labor-workers in the back of their pick-ups. They are exposed to the elements. It’s pouring. I go soft in my Volvo, which is hardly an inconvenience. I second the motion that I am spoiled.
Upon arrival my backpack is leaking. What healthy-pond-scum concoction I had is now soaked into literature, notebook and camera. I fantasize more about retirement and breathe into the accident. I want to be sad about the spill, but there’s no point. My team shows me pity, but they’re on an even tighter schedule, with duties that require the use of brain and brawn. I have no room to complain.
Our hosts have prepared the dressing room with fresh Thai coconuts which, rich in magnesium, elevates my mood. Gravity pulls my shoulders down and I let out a long stupid laugh, redirecting the rant in my head onto the keys of the laptop. Ten fingers tap dancing, taking out the trash.
On the late night drive to our hotel, my mind drifts out of the window, present to distance traveled, but generally unfazed that Bangkok is today’s landscape. I decide I am jaded.
I also decide long-term-use suitcases should be called Nut-cases. Cold sores are most-likely triggered by lack of sleep, processed food, and not wanting one. Magic 8 balls are perfectly reliable oracles of wisdom. I will forever be 3 minutes late to lobby call. And just like a phone company programs bugs into phones before unveiling the new model, eye glasses seem to smudge all by themselves.
It’s now Saturday August 24th and it arrives with a promise of rejuvenation. I will abuse my snooze alarm. I will practice music and yoga. I will prepare. I will treat myself to an authentic Thai massage before returning to Impact Arena to squeeze every bit of my being through the slimy-narrow-folds in my throat. I have no doubt I’ll be buzzing again after the show. High on the whole experience, and happy to be here.
I decide this tour is but one song in a wonderfully long dance.
I never would have written I’m Yours or I Wont Give Up without a regular writing practice. Neither song came from me saying, I’m going to sit down and write me a song today. Instead, they emerged from a regular habit of playing guitar and channeling my thoughts, feelings and emotions through song. In other words, a habit of making stuff up. Or in a deeper sense, becoming an instrument that Spirit gets to play.
I could add that the process is mystical, healing, uplifting, etc. But those instances are rare, or are often only experienced when looking back at a completed section. The moment I were to say, this is magical, I would then be observing it, thus removing myself from actually being a part of it. Therefore in songwriting, whenever possible, it’s best not to think at all, and just hand yourself over to the play.
The actual writing process can be exhausting. I might have my chords and my melody, and can see and hear the path the song wants to take, but I may not have the words. To find them requires focus, looping the section over and over as the body and mind dances to fit different thoughts and ideas into the best possible cadence, while considering alliteration, internal rhyme and end rhyme, with the goal of it all sounding palatable. It takes a lot of effort to make it sound effortless.
Whenever I’m without words I turn to books, magazine or film. It’s pretty natural for me to come out of a movie feeling transformed and then go home and apply my new outlook to a song. The same happens after a yoga class. Should I truly hand myself over to the instruction of the teacher, my mind gets a moment to tune into something new, thus giving me a new outlook. Fresh from a yoga class you’d think I was stoned. Which interestingly is another option for expanding one’s view, but can also limit one’s ability to make sense.
When I read, I have to be careful not to let the book’s voice become my own. I credit Rumi, Hafiz, Neil Donald Walsh, Daniel Quinn, Alan Weisman, Alan Watts, Barbara Kingsolver, Dan Brown, David Sedaris, and Kelly Oxford for keeping my wit, world view, and pencil sharpened.
For every 12 songs that appear on an album, there are approximately 70 that get discarded. This is due to some songs being just plain boring, or predictable, or too weird. Some seem to lack truth or necessity. Others may not have quite as catchy a lyric or melody. And then there are some that almost make it to the finals, but are edged out by another song too close in style. An example of this can be heard in Don’t Change At All, which was recorded during Love Is A Four Letter Word, but in the end too closely resembled Who’s Thinking About You Now, and therefore got bumped to a bonus-track category, not in the top 13 that made the final playlist.
There’s always a few songs cut from an album that, to quote Boyz II Men, are so hard to say goodbye. At first they remain in consideration for future projects, but time and new experiences usher in new songs which eventually take precedence. On many occasions a song just needs time to mature and realize itself. I’m Yours, in fact was recorded with Steve Lillywhite during the making of Mr. A-Z, but didn’t make it onto the final album. It would take another 3 years of touring before the song found its footing.
Of the archive of songs that time left behind, I trust one day I’ll find a way to share them. As a songwriter, I’d be honored if another artist recorded my work, but I haven’t yet established a system to promote my unheard material, nor am I eager. In many ways, the unheard song is vital to the life of the popular song because without it, the popular song would never have been written. The lost song lives forever in the foundation. It’s more than just another page turned, but an integral part of the process I had to go through to get to the next level.
Occasionally songs get leaked and audiences hear my voice on something they’ve never heard and they assume it’s new or upcoming material. Recently, an demo of a song called, I Don’t Miss You, found it’s way onto the internet under the assumption of it being poised for release. It bums me out when that happens as I would prefer the listener know my work in real-time. But a song is a song and has it’s own life outside of the writer’s. I wrote I Don’t Miss You with Rick Nowels in 2010. It was one of many I wrote with Rick back then. Two of our efforts from that era did find their way onto Love Is A Four Letter Word; them being Living In the Moment, which we locked ourselves in the studio all night to complete & The World As I See It, a relatively quick and easy song inspired by Albert Einstein’s memoir of the same name.
The majority of the upcoming songs for the new album currently in production were written with LA-Based foursome, Raining Jane over three long-weekends between October 2012 & May 2013. Some of the material has been road-tested and more will be revealed as touring resumes in the coming months.
I have faith my current recording experiment will become an album for release. Although, we’re only giving ourselves a little more than 2 weeks to make it, which is kind of an old fashioned approach. It means we have to be well-rehearsed and no one gets too much time to over-think it. The result so far is sounding genuine, groovy and gorgeous. I trust many will appreciate it’s less-is-more approach. Otherwise, it’s back to the drawing board in the classroom of yoga.
In the meantime, live like an instrument, and stay tuned.
Songwriting is about risk-taking. One simply needs a safe, open space to say or do anything in order to see/hear what wants to stick to the page. In a collaborative effort, all must be open to trial and experimentation. Without complete freedom of expression, a song will lack the necessary truth required to give it life. Without truth, a song is just a song. It may be clever, or sound pretty, but it may not fly as high. In order to create a great song, one must be willing to trade in clever for truth, especially when the truth doesn’t feel safe to share. It’s playing by these standards that songwriting becomes an adventure for the courageous.
Meet Raining Jane: a female-foursome of risk-taking road veterans who have toured extensively on their original music for more than a decade. They are also the co-founders of The Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls, Los Angeles, an intensive program that empowers young women to rock in all aspects of their lives.
I first met Raining Jane, in September of 2006 at the University of Redlands. We were on the same schoolyard festival bill. With thoughtful lyrics, brilliant harmonies, diverse instrumentation, a high energy percussionista, and good looks, they were a tough act to follow. I played alone, nervously hammering through my set while begging forgiveness. After the gig I bowed to them, suggesting we collaborate. A few months later, we gathered at my home studio for the first of what has now become a long tradition of annual writing retreats known as ladies’ weekend.
Within the first few writing sessions, Raining Jane and I unearthed a few songs that would transform all of our lives. Songs like Silent Love Song, which we donated to San Diego’s Fire Relief Project in 2007; Collapsible Plans which won best original song in the Hollywood Film Festival for the amazing documentary The Big Fix; And Beautiful Mess, which has gone on to become a concert classic.
It didn’t take long for The Janes and I to realize we shared the same core values and shared a passion for truthful, healing songwriting. Our shared vision is to use our creative gifts to improve the world, not belittle it. Whenever we make time to write together, it’s always magical, and as you can imagine, the songs have started piling up.
For the next two weeks, The Janes and I are exploring what it would sound like if we were to record an album together. Stay tuned for updates, leaks and previews as this surprising new story unfolds. In the meantime, enjoy this clip of The Janes and I performing together for Feeding The Soul back in 2010.