Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why touring sucks: a look into the life of the professional musician

So I wrote yesterday about the state of my band, The Princes of Hollywood and I made mention of the difficulties in touring, and the relative stupidity of a career in music. Allow me to illustrate.

Let’s take your average, semi-nationally touring independent musical act, say, The Princes of Hollywood, and see how the touring business actually breaks down. Let’s assume that you’ve already got the point of having a tour booked, no small feat in itself, and have some press and radio arrangements for the tour. If you have an independent publicist working on your behalf, as we do, remember that you’ll have to pay them for their services since they are not working on behalf of you record label—because you don’t have one, remember? For a general press push in radio, print, and web mediums, it is safe to assume that you’ll pay around $100 per show for extensive market saturation. And remember, other than the events calendars, there is no guarantee that anyone will write about your show, or play your record on the radio, or call you for an interview. So far, we’re in the red -$100.

Assuming that you’ve got all that covered—which is half of the work of touring alone—then you’ve got the travel and show related things to consider. If you’re lucky and booked a reasonable tour, you won’t half to travel more than 400 miles between any two shows, but trust me, it happens (in one four day span, The P of H once played Boston, Cleveland, Virginia, and then Dewey Beach, Delaware, and another time Dayton, Duluth, MN, and Omaha, NE. Yikes!). Say you’re trying to play a venue and a town for the first time, and you’ve done what you could getting the venue flyers, getting your tune on local radio, getting a write up in the local papers, and emailing your fan list about the show; consider yourself blessed if you get 15 people to show and see you play. By our last tour we rarely played a headlining show with a ticket price about $10, and that was at the end of two years of full-time touring. So let’s say your show has a $10 ticket price. If the venue lets you keep the full door cover, you’ll make $150 on the show. More than likely, they will at least keep something to cover the technical costs of the sound equipment and paying the sound engineer, so let’s take that number down to $120. Of those fifteen people who showed up, let’s say five of them (33%!) were moved enough by your stellar performance to buy a CD, which you sell for $12. That’s an extra $60, but if you’re anything like most independent artists, you’ve self-financed your own record, and you’re probably in debt for the cost of making an album, which can easily reach and soar into the five figures. So more than likely that $60 is going into the jar to pay off the record costs. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that you’re debt free, so that $60 will go into the band payment fund. You’ve made $180 for your first show in a new town, and the venue owner liked you enough to have you back for a show in the future. Great! But what about this tour?

Well, you made $180 on this show, but you started out in the red because you had to pay your publicist $100, so now you’ve made $80 on the show. But, shit, you had to drive there, didn’t you? Say that you were in a small enough band that you could fit into a relatively compact car, like was the case on the most recent P of H tour (we were a three piece, no drums). Say you get 34 mpg on the highway, which is pretty good for a car crammed full of shit and three dudes or ladies. With gas being almost $4.00 a gallon, it adds up. Say you traveled from Boston to Rochester, NY between gigs, a 392 mile drive (trust me, I’ve done it many times). 392 in a car that gets 34 mpg at $3.50 a gallon means the drive cost you $40 and change. So, that $80 is cut in half just getting to the gig, so you’ve now made $40 on the gig, after all that hard work. But wait, there’s more!

What if you don’t have friends to stay with in the town you’re playing? It looks like the Motel 6 for you, my friend, and good luck finding a Motel 6 for under $40, even if you sneak your bandmates in while the hotel staff isn’t looking (as we did frequently). There goes the rest of the money you made that night, and you still haven’t had anything to eat. A pizza and a six-pack of beer puts you in the red by $20. And there are other costs to consider if you’ve printed up flyers and sent them to the venue ($8 a show, perhaps), and the cost of car insurance, upkeep of instruments and the tour vehicle, a booking agent’s cut (if you have one, say 10-20%) and what about your home life? Do you have rent or a mortgage, not to mention bills and a girlfriend? Wow, so you’ve spent money to play this show, and now you’ve got to call your girlfriend on your cell phone (don’t forget to pay that bill!) to tell her about how things went? Feeling up to it?

So, that’s why touring sucks. But there are plenty of reasons touring doesn’t suck, and how people make a living doing it, but I’m too exhausted to try and tell you about it now. More to come on that soon.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Send me again into the sky..."

First, my apologies to all of those who’ve asked me what been happening with the blog, and thanks for the encouragement to keep it going. Life has just been getting in the way as of late, and I mean that in a good way. But I’m still here, and thing are definitely looking up.

Second, I’d like to address what may be on some folks’ minds, including mind: what’s happening with The Princes of Hollywood? Some of you saw us this weekend, for what turned out to be a sort of reunion show, though we’d expected only to be in Athens, Ohio for the support of the Passionworks Project CD release show. As most of you have noticed, we’ve been laying low for most of the last four months, after our tour ended in Rochester, New York on December 18th. First of all, we had a fantastic but tumultuous year in 2007. We toured more extensively and successfully than ever before, but we also found ourselves exhausted, still in debt from our last record, and unsure of our next move. Scotty “The Mullet” Houchens amicably left the band for pursuits academic, and Harlan and I decided it was time to get the hell out of dodge, so to speak, and leave our hometown of Athens, Ohio for the big lights and warmer climes of Nashville, TN. The move took a lot out of us, both financially and emotionally, and we’re only now getting back on our feet. We also got pretty used to performing as a three-piece, and singing in three-part harmony, and we felt very little excitement about re-working our songs for duo performances. Meanwhile, the state of the economy and the price of gasoline have made it the prospect of making money on tour excruciatingly suspect. A career in music (or the arts, for that matter) is not for the faint of heart or the soft of stomach.

So we’ve been laying low, remembering how to have rewarding daily life, and not thinking too much about the future. And it seems now that we find our selves in a better place than ever, and excited again about the prospect of making music that we love.

I can’t say that things will be quite like they were in the past. I’ve begun work on a number of new projects that should keep me busy performing, writing, and producing music with other folks. Our cavalier attitudes toward driving through snowdrifts in Duluth, MN in the February have mellowed a bit, and extensive touring without the support of a label or sponsor seems unlikely, but you never know. However, we are writing new songs that are some of our best yet, and we are becoming a part of a very vibrant and healthy creative community here in Nashville, so who knows what might come of that. More to the point, we’re spending some time getting back to what it is we loved in the first place and seeing where that takes us, and I promise that is a good thing.

In other exciting news, I’ve begun working on some co-writing with other writers here in Nashville, and the results have been excellent. I wrote a song a few weeks ago with Chad Harris, with whom I currently performing, that has been coming together nicely the more that we play it. It’s a big, catch alternative pop-rock song, unlike most of the stuff I write, though it has a few of my touches—a minor/major 6 chord here, a earthy metaphor there—and I’m excited about it. I’m also working on a song with Chris Meyers, of The Bittersweets fame, a fantastic band originally from San Francisco who now live in Nashville. They have a new record coming out in August on Compass Records, and it is excellent. We’ve started work on a song that is very country-noir, tentatively based on the story of a Iraq war veteran whose post-traumatic stress disorder drove him to drown his wife in the bathtub, call the authorities, and then go bowling. What we’ve come up with is a creepy yet somehow sweet tale of husband and dead-wife talking and dancing in the shadows of a sad and beautiful world.

In the next few months I’ll be doing plenty more writing, and I’ll also be performing with Chad Harris, The Princes of Hollywood, The Queen City Zapatistas, and possibly Southpaw and the Sinnisters. More to come on all of that soon!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"I got all the f*#$ing work I need" -- Dan Reeder's "Work Song"

Well, that was quite a week.

I’ve been derelict in my duties as reporter, but certainly not in my duties as musician/explorer/moron. I’ve been on the non-stop flight to Busytown this week, and with the assistance of vast quantities of coffee and wine, and the dream of the unifying organizational powers of the iPhone on my mind, I’m almost at the point where I can pull my multi-directional life off.

Starting last Friday, I helped to host my company’s first wine event, a co-promotion with the importer Frederick Wildman & Sons and the super swanky Nuevo-American restaurant The Watermark. Set up in the loft bar of the Watermark, we showcased five French wines new to the Nashville market, with my company serving as the retail outlet for folks who wanted to purchase wines. Basically, the extent of my work was to hob-knob with the rich people, drink wine, and eat the excellent hors d'oeuvres—not bad for a night’s work. Do you remember the scene in That Thing You Do, the Tom Hanks picture about the fictional 60s band, “The Wonders”? One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Steve Zahn’s character, Lenny Haise, turns to drummer Guy Patterson on the stage of a Hollywood TV show and asks, with innocent glee, “Skitch, how did we get here?” I ask myself this question frequently, and on Friday night, after my fifth glass of wine, looking out the floor to ceiling windows of one of the nicest restaurants I’ve ever been in at Nashville’s downtown skyline, I whispered it to myself, hoping no one would hear me.

Saturday, I roused myself early and prepared for another brisk day of sloshing and schlepping in the wine world. I don’t remember much of the early part of the day, just a haze of customers, distributors with wine to taste, and the buzz of the Hill Center passing outside the windows. Sometime during the day I acquired free tickets to see Jackson Browne at the Ryman Auditorium that evening; a very nice man in a baseball cap came in to offer them to Ed, my boss, who offered them to Melanie, our wine educator, who in turn offered them to me and Harlan. I was more than grateful to oblige their request to take the tickets and leave work early to attend a show at one of the most historical and revered venues in our country. Jackson was in fine form, as was the Ryman itself. I was surprised to find that the auditorium was arranged width-wise in the building, with the stage on the side instead of depth-wise with the stage in the back; the result is that every seat is closer to the stage, and even the rear-most seats in the balcony are closer than most middle seats in other theaters. The seats are church pughs, remnants of the Ryman’s days as a house of worship. While aesthetically pleasing, they are not comfortable and force you to get rather personal with your fellow concert-goers, but I suppose that they were intended for the penitent man, not the comfort-seeking, beer-drinking music viewer.

Sunday saw the arrival of my fellow music makers, my comrades-in-arms, Benny Harnish and Dan Dorff. Benny, sometimes bass player in many of my musical configurations, was fresh off the boat from Holland, having spent the last two months escapading around Europe with his girlfriend and his bass. Dan is the drummer in many projects in which Benny and I have been involved, such as Southpaw and the Sinisters, The Queen City Zapatistas, and, if memory serves, one Princes of Hollywood gig on St. Patrick’s Day. I had invited Benny down to Nashville to play bass for my first gig in town with Chad Harris, and since he’s a sucker, he said he’d come. After rehearsals on Sunday and Monday evenings we were feeling pretty good about the upcoming show so we headed over to the 12th South Taproom, a quaint bar with great beer just up the road from my house where one of the big studio bass players in town, Dave Pomeroy, holds down a weekly night of music making and joke telling. It quickly turned into a sort of after-hours-for-the-working-musician; the barkeeps put up the stools and locked the doors but seemed content to let us sit around, drinking beer and talking shop. I learned that the Spanish-style hacienda compound across the street was the property of Dolly Parton and we also spent a great deal of time on the topic of John Hartford, and the best techniques for dancing with a banjo.

Tuesday night was the gig, and though the band wasn’t as tight as I had hoped—we did just learn the material, mind you—I had fun, and the club owners were awful nice, as were the other performers. A fellow Ohioan who I stayed with on one for my first visits to Nashville last year happened to play the first set of the evening, and it was a pleasant surprise to see him again. We retired to Chad’s house for some light drinking, heavy snacking, and some short-lived musical revelry, which concluded with me singing the few songs I know in Spanish.

The following morning I was up early to get some paperwork done over at the office and had the pleasant surprise of being subjected to the tasting of some 75 new wines from two distributors. Going on four hours of sleep, and having skipped breakfast and coffee that morning, I was surprised to find that my palate was in otherwise extraordinary shape, and the wines seemed to leap out of the glass at me, uncharacteristically self-evident. I did manage to slip into the darkened office to sleep on the shag carpet in between sessions, and I made it through the morning relatively pleasantly. One of the great things about being in the wine business is that you meet many fine and fascinating folks, and this week was no exception; on Wednesday and Thursday alone I met with a Frenchman via Ashville, North Carolina who brought us some of his superb catalogue of French wines and a thick, charming accent, and two Californians, one whose company imported a small selection of New Zealand wines (minerally, tangy, and excellent) and the other who owned Broc Cellars, making some fantastic blends from small, old Californian vineyards. I had some great wine this week.

The remainder of the week went by in a blur, as this was our busiest week in the store since opening, including a record breaking Saturday. Meanwhile, I spent mornings makings lists and working on new songs, not to mention trying to clean the house. I’ve got some new material that is starting to take shape, and I hope that by fall The Princes of Hollywood will be back in full swing, and I’ll be able to get some of these songs out there and see what people think. The insanity was interrupted on Sunday evening by a sojourn to suburbia, the shire of Brentwood, for a delightful dinner with someone with ties to Drue; a fine time was had, and Harlan and I got to flex our proverbial wine muscles and steward the selection to go with dinner. Overall, not a bad way to end a frantic and delightful week.

And, shit, what a song: please listen to Dan Reeder's "Work Song", the perfection of the African-American field song in contemporary, middle-class white guy form. Yes!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New York City and The Lyric of the Week Award

The lyric of the week award goes to NYC singer/songwriter Mike Doughty, whose new record Golden Delicious was released this week:

“I wrote a song about your car, I wrote it with your hips in mind.”

Speaking of Mike Doughty, a funny thing happened to me the first time The Princes of Hollywood played New York City. We were covering Doughty tune, “American Car”, an old favorite that we re-worked with folk instruments and big, three-part harmonies. I introduced the song by saying this: “here’s a song by our favorite New York songwriter Mike Doughty”. We played the song and the show continued without much ado.

After our set I was milling about by the bar, probably drinking something viciously over-priced, when I was approached by an unassuming, average-build, moderately Caucasian individual. He said he really enjoyed our set and asked when our new record would be coming out (A Change of Venue had not yet been released, as this was February of 2007 –Ed.). We made small talk briefly about he music, our new record, the weather in NYC in February before he paused to inform me, without any lead-in whatsoever:
“Just so you know, it’s not really cool to say ‘negro’ around here…you know, in the city were a little more careful…”
I just stood there, my face as blank as a new sheet of paper, completely incredulous.
“You know what I mean…?” he continued.
Me: still nothing. I simply did not understand. An awkward moment passed before I finally managed to stutter, “I beg your pardon?”
“You know, during your set you introduced that song as being by your ‘favorite negro songwriter’…”
“I…I mean…when did…so you think…what?” was approximately my answer. Harlan had wandered over to our conversation at this point, and seemed as puzzled as I did.
“What song was this?” I asked, figuring he must have been watching another show and mis-recognized me. I was beginning to regain my senses.
“You know, the one about the car, American car something or other…”
Harlan and I seemed to reach a moment of realization simultaneously, as we both began to explain, rather embarrassedly and emphatically that I had said “NEW YORK songwriter,” definitely not Negro songwriter.
With the crisis adverted, things got stale in the conversation rather quickly. And them something weird happened: I got pissed off.
I first I thought the guy was simply a concerned citizen, diplomatically calling attention to erroneous statement made in a public setting, but as the dust settled on the debating of my possible use of an ethnic slur while on microphone, I began to feel otherwise. It was as if the whole of New York City had taken a big dump of pomposity and arrogance right onto my lap. Oh, these poor Midwestern boys, our audient must have thought, they’re so behind the times. I imagined at that moment all of the denizens of New York City quietly snickering at our ineptitude, assured in their smug self-indulgence that while they may have problems, at least they live in the “real world”, not some backwater shit-hole like Ohio, where bigots roam free, incest happens frequently, and everyone rides into town on tractors. He even referred to his New York as “the City”. What a dick. I didn’t think to tell him that I was born in the state of New York, not far from his idyllic burg, his fortress of political correctness.

I lingered on these thoughts even as we left the bar, trudging through the snow back to our brownstone Bonita (to quote David Mead) in Brooklyn, my head full of brimstone and ire. And while I continue to find myself confused and incredulous of the incident, I still love New York City, it’s vigor and cancerous energy—it really is an intense and wondrous place. So here is my deal, New York City: if I agree that you’re the best, can you stop pretending like the rest of the world doesn’t exist?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Oen-o! -or- how I came unto Dionysian employ

So, as I may have mentioned, I’m in the wine business now, along with the music business. I’ve always been hot for the world of imbibing, whether it be coffee (a well-know and documented addiction of mine), whiskey (also well-known and documented), beer, wine, hell, even water. Me likey drinkey.

So, in the midst of my Nashville scramblings—finding an apartment, networking in the music scene, foraging for nuts and berries—I happened upon an opportunity in the wide world of wine that intrigued me, and I figured I could use the dough. Soon enough I found myself a part of YN, inc, an up-and-coming player on the Nashville wine scene, and I’ve had a lot to learn. Which is how I found myself as the YN representative at an industry tasting yesterday in a swanky, modernist Italian restaurant in historic Germantown, just a bit north of downtown.

I tried to look stylish and successful, donning a black-tie, velvet-blazer upper (the successful part) paired with some dark jeans and Converse All-Stars (the stylish part), but I’m not sure that helped. This was a showcase for Frederick Wildman and Sons, a major importer and distributor out of New York City and it seemed most of the big dogs in Nashville wine were on hand. While tasting wine sounds like a simple task, and one that any lush or rummy off the street would have no trouble accomplishing, it’s actually a bit stressful and requires a lexicon and perspicuity all it own. Basically, a bunch of people in expensive clothes gather around a couple of tables pouring, and sniffing, and drinking, and dumping a volatile amount of wine into metal receptacles, all the while expecting that their Versace suit will come out unscathed. I tried to work my way down the line of the reds first, taking time to note both the nose (read: smell) and the taste of the wine, find the brand on my price list, and record my observations. Meanwhile people are bumping into me, more experienced merchants trying to move quickly down the line, laughing, and talking, and shouting with cacophonous zeal. Needless to say, I still don’t really know what I’m doing or what I’m saying, a mere roustabout among professionals. I’ve been relieved to find out that I can actually identify what I’m smelling and tasting, but I’m not confident enough yet to believe what I’m saying. My boss seems to think I’m doing just fine, for whenever I give him my notes on a particular tasting he says something like “You’re doing fine,” or “spot on”. I’m not convinced. I had an easier time with the whites, as the crowd was beginning to thin as the tasting wound down and one of the proprietors took the time to walk me through a few of his personal favorites. I was surprised to find that I had an easier time feeling conclusive about the whites; likely, this is because I’ve spent enough time with reds to learn how to appreciate the myriad flavors of which they can be comprised, and I don’t know much about the complexities of white. Its like trying to explain to someone who only knows how to appreciate the baser elements of music—say, Nickel back and Britney Spears—why Joe Henry and Ornette Coleman kick so much ass. I guess I was able to find the Britney of white wines. It takes time to learn the finer things.

So, here I am, bravely riding forth into unexplored territories. Or perhaps it’s a little more like creeping forward, peering into the shadows for booby traps. Regardless, I’m advancing toward my own western horizon, my very own American frontier. Now where’s my Davy Crockett cap?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Another Day, Another Night

Time is speeding up in Nashville, Tennessee. Patterns are beginning to show themselves, streets are starting to makes pathways, things are happening or appearing at regularly scheduled intervals; yes, I think its true, the honeymoon is over and this is my island now—coconuts, thatched roof, and all.

I’m kidding of course—about the tropical island theme, that is. Despite an unusually warm winter for me (I’m from the north, remember; I’ve lived in Ohio, Boston, and the second wettest place on earth, second only to the Amazon jungle, Swansea, Wales) including a day or two at 70 degrees, today it is snowing. And this time a real snow, with big New England-sized snowflakes that dust the windows and stick in your hair.

I know I should embrace the winter here because it won’t last long, and I really like wearing coats and jackets and scarves, but it’s hard because my house, beautiful as it is with is dark-stained wood floors, mahogany and tile kitchen, and large-stoned fireplace is cold as a son of a bitch. We can’t turn the heat up because we’re poor, and when we do, Harlan can only lay in bed at night counting the times the furnace turns on, calculating the fiscal damage each firing incurs.

Last night, probably the coldest of the year so far, I headed over to the Mercy Lounge, a venue housed in an old cannery warehouse, down in the industrial lowlands of midtown Nashville. The place has a great stage and sound system, with a tidy, loft-like vibe, all steel, concrete, and wood with red velvet trimmings. Outside the big-paned windows trains roll by frequently, though without any aural disruptions; they must have insulated the shit out of that wall. Watching trains roll by in the dark, a Guinness in your hand, makes the music that much more romantic, and that’s why I like the place. I was there to see my friends The Bittersweets, a band from San Francisco who also recently relocated to Nashville. They been in the throes of finishing a new record, one that I’m very excited about, and so last night was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to hear some of the new material. Afterward I tried, inconclusively, to offer my services as a pedal steel player, but I’m still not really great at being suggestive of my worth to potential suitors, musically or romantically. I, of course, blame my long and multifarious history with women.

Another boon of my late-night winter-laden traipsing was that the whole show was full of great acts. The night was opened by the banjo-tinkling Julie Lee, who sang quietly and quoted Emily Dickenson, and was concluded by sets from Robby Hect, a soulful, finger-picking, beanie-cap-wearing fella with a great band, and Judd and Maggie, a duo from Nashville via Baltimore. I went home, feeling restive and fully awake, so I paced around the kitchen, eventually pouring myself some cereal, and read some of Dave Eggers new book, What is the What, a semi-biographical novel about Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee and American immagrant; thus far, the book is, like Eggers’ first, both heartbreaking and genius (Eggers’ first book was called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius).

I did get to thinking last night, however, and it occurs to me that one habit I’ve been getting into here, thankfully, is the willful embracement of each day. I don’t feel paralyzed by options, or tortured by my dreams and aspirations. There are a whole lot of things that I want to do, yes, but I do have time. I probably won’t be famous, and I probably won’t be rich, and I probably won’t see nearly as much of the world as I’d like to, but at least I’m trying now, and not just worrying like I had been for the last two years. I think I’d like to call it the post-collegiate stress syndrome, or perhaps the 21st century freeze-out, but whatever it’s called I’m glad that it has passed. As weird as it feels to say it, I’m just happy to be alive and doing stuff, and excited to see where it all leads. And, no, I’m not on Quaaludes.

And there you have it, another day and another night in Music City. I better find something to be pissed about before this blog gets excessively sentimental and cloying. F*%# Santa! Yeah, that ought to do it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pestle to the Mortar

I’m still here, I’m still not dead, and I’m only mostly broke; today marks three weeks that I’ve been in Nashville, and I’m here to report that things remain relatively unremarkable, though not negatively so.

I’ve spent a lot of time meeting people, cold calling folks I respect, sending emails into the black hole of cyberspace, seeking knowledge, direction, and positive reinforcement. And mostly, that’s what I’ve received; the people, it seems, are why one stays in Nashville. I know that I’ve raved and ranted blindly about the social climate here in the past, insistent that the people of Nashville—or, more specifically, of the Nashvillian music scene—would have to be nice, professional, and supportive, if only for the sake of career longevity. First of all, this can’t entirely be true, semantically or ideologically, because it would also therefore indicate that people in New York City wouldn’t be pretentious, arrogant assholes completely self-deceived of their city’s importance, and people in L.A wouldn’t be smug, over-sexed meat heads completely self-deceived of their own importance, and we all know that not to be true. Oh, stop it. (Yes, I realize that I am making bold, unsubstantiated claims about entire metropolitan populations, but what fun would a blog be without some bitching? In addition, suffice it to say that I have many, many friends in both of those cities whom I love and respect for being bigger, better people than me, and I would be both delighted and enthralled to have the opportunity to live in either of those fair points of egress. ‘nuff said.)

But, for the most part, it is true: people in Nashville are nice. Sure, some drive like dicks, and some are probably bigots, the public transportation authority sucks, and the discrepancy between wealth and poverty is all too apparent. But, hell, you can find that stuff anywhere, places where there isn’t an amazing community of musical minds and industry folk, a few of whom still believe in music. I can say, with certainty, that all of the people who I’ve met or contacted have been fantastically accommodating, humans of the highest caliber.

You may also have noticed that I’m getting a little work. I’ve got my first Nashville date coming up in March, at the hip club The Basement, which I’ve mentioned frequently in the past. This gig is with a singer/songwriter named Chad Harris, a talented and earnest chap who reminds me, musically, of Emerson Hart, the former lead singer of the-big-in-the-late-nineties-band Tonic. He’s got some good things in the works for future touring and also has the current theme song for Speed TV. I’m sure I’ll have more to report on this soon.

Also still cooking on the stovetop is the record for my bud Matt Mackey, which is somewhere in studio-land, being mixed and awaiting overdubs of piano and organ by none other than keys maestro and Nashville resident Gabe Dixon. I’ve been told I might have something to do with this, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. From what I’ve heard (literally, I’ve listened to a couple of cuts, not just heard it through the grapevine), Mackey’s record is going to very cool, and fill a unique space in today’s music market, falling squarely between the contemporary sentimentality of white-guy singer songwriters and the grit and sex of Bill Withers, which, in my humble opinion, is a pretty cool place to be. I really hope to get out and tour behind that record, but all of that is yet to be seen. I’m hopeful though, as Matt just moved a bit closer to me, now finding himself in Alabama to be near the missus, so look for some regional dates on my calendar.

So, the good news is I like it here. The bad news is, I’m going to have to stay here to make this work. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has reminded me that the only way to get to where you want to be, career-wise, in this town is to be persistent. One engineer/drummer told me it took seven years to get the gig he wanted, and now holds. Jason Lehning, one of my favorite producers in town, and a member of one of my favorite bands, The Silver Seas, told me it took him ten years to get to where he really wanted to be. But everyone has told me that it can be done, but you can’t just talk and dream, you’ve got put the pestle to the mortar, as it were. Just watch me.

Meanwhile, I’ve been keeping a revolving schedule of periodic homebody-ing followed by peripatetic and automotive tomfoolery. I’ve found an excellent fromaggeria to buy rich smoked cheeses and rosemary ham. I’ve drunk gallons of coffee. I went antiquing with the roommates, and found granite-topped armoires and mounted deer heads out of our price range, and a crystal whiskey decanter which wasn’t, and so it now sits on my kitchen counter illuminating the Rittenhouse Rye within. It’s been three years since I lived in Boston and I must say, it’s good to be back in the city again.

Currently on the docket is making preparatory accommodations for our first in-house fire (in the fireplace, of course), working with Harlan on our book of Retro-sexual miscellany (my proposed title: The Man-ifesto. Get it? Also, as a preview, our hall of illustrious alumni includes Capt. Myles Standish, Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemmingway, Cary Grant, and George Clooney) and opening a wine store (it’s a long story, but check out for delicious hints for the rumor-mongering). Pestle to the mortar, indeed.