Staind frontman Aaron Lewis said it best in the group’s 2001 mega-smash, miser-groaner-drop-tuning-sludge-rock trudge, “It’s Been Awhile,” when he sang (over, and over, and over), “It’s been awhile.”
When reflecting on these words in the context of this blog, truly, it’s been a while … since I pressed the publish button.
Not long after my last post — July 5, to be exact — a joyous thing happened: summer finally came to Seattle. That means the near-incessant overcast skies and omnipresent rain (mostly) dissipated, giving way to sun and slightly higher temperature — you know, things that typically happen during the summer, they just occur about two months later than regions that aren’t the Pacific Northwest. All of this is to say that, when you’ve experienced nothing but mild weather eight months of the year (a.k.a. Junuary) when there’s finally sun — and actual warmth — blogging, which is very much an indoor activity, is relegated pretty far down on the priority list.
But I’ve never been one for excuses, so here is a well-reasoned chronology explaining why I haven’t posted any new content since July 2. I’ll also fill you in on some musical and/or non-musical happenings you may’ve missed.
Performances, both solo and otherwise
On the heels of two highly successful Folk Off!s, the Awesome Witch of Rad, Zach Warnes and yours truly returned to the site of the May edition for a night of good music, good friends, and slightly extended individual sets.
I kicked off the evening with the first two songs from Newsfeed Anxiety’s upcoming, soon-to-be-much-blogged-about album, The Disconnect: “As We Stand Here,” a tale of a somewhat-fictionalized, late-night tryst in a large midwestern city, and “The Wheels Will Always Turn,” the resultant fallout of said rendezvous. Both are in C major and connected in theme, so they seemed appropriate to play one after the other. Plus, I had just recorded the vocals for them that week, and they were still fresh in my mind.
Next, I played a cover of a cover, both versions by two of my favorite artists: the Who’s “Substitute,” as performed acoustically by the great Richard Thompson. It had been almost two years since I played the song, and figured it was due. Immediately afterward, however, I was informed that cover songs are forbidden in that space, due to a recent visit from an ASCAP representative, who apparently told the folks at Bedlam that playing such songs is copyright infringement and punishable by legal action. (I had heard something like this previous performance at the now-defunct Yellowstone Perk, but because its management was so unprofessional, I thought this was some bogus excuse to cancel shows. Turns out it was a legitimate reason. Lesson learned.)
Luckily, that was the only cover I had planned for the set, so I proceeded on as usual, playing another track from The Disconnect — a yet-to-be-named, B-minor ode to certain unpleasant aspects of the Missoula, Mont., music scene (I still love the place, though) — the Paul Simon/Regina Spektor-inspired ditty “Missed Connection,” and concluded with “This Doesn’t Need to be Anything,” a number I hadn’t performed since the April Folk Off!. All in all, it was a pretty decent mini-set. The best was yet to come, though.
Now, forgive me for my absent-mindedness, but I can’t remember the order of night, though I have a 50/50 chance of guessing correctly. Either way, both Zach and AWOR played excellent mini-sets, most songs I had heard at the previous Folk Offs! I found myself humming along to AWOR’s songs about “letting the tears out,” “black rainbows” and “lakes of fire” (see previous entry). And Mr. Zachary played more “Zach-lassics,” such as “Friendly Ghost,” “Be Kind,” and “You Haunt Me,” (featuring yours truly as a guest vocalist.) Speaking of guest vocalist, the excellent Mariko Rose Ruhle lent her Dolores O’Riordan/Sharon Van Etten-esque voice to the previously mentioned “Be Kind,” as well as on the formerly unnamed awesome song in B major, now called “Petrified in Country B.”
Since then, I’ve seen Zach play twice — once at an establishment called The Upstairs, opening for the Whiskey Swillers (whom I highly recommend), and again Bedlam Coffee, this time for AWOR’s birthday bash. Of the former, Mr. Warnes pulled a Bobby Dylan and played his Telecaster instead, which was especially powerful on his newer song (and forgive me if I botch the name), “Oh, You Lonesome Friend You.” Of the latter, Mr. Zach was the first in a night filled with top-notch musicianship, most notably two of AWOR’s good friends/former bandmates (whose names escape me), who played the most touching, non-country song about a heart transplant I think I’ve ever heard, and a very crucial — albeit slightly different — two-sevenths of James Apollo and the Sweet Unknown. And although the Folk Offs! have taken a bit of a hiatus, I’m still glad I’ve been able to get my friends-playing-live-music fix.
As for me, I haven’t performed solo-acoustic since that night in early July — save for a somewhat-uninspired solo open mic outing at the Hopvine — but that’s all right. Other things have been afoot, as you will soon learn.
Fun Times in Big Sky Country
For my holiday getaway, I returned to the place where I’ve spent many a summer of yore: Montana, a.k.a. Big Sky Country, a.k.a. the Last Best Place. A retreat to the homestead was much needed; while thePac Northwest is great, Montana is something else — a something I didn’t realize until leaving almost a year ago. John Steinbeck summed up this sentiment so well, it deserves a fancy block quote styling:
I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.
I arrived in Billings, Mont., late on a Friday night. The next day, my family and I drove to Deer Lodge — a small town in western(ish) Montana, which also happens to be the birthplace of zen master and 13-time NBA champion, Phil Jackson — for a local production of the thoroughly enjoyable Thoroughly Modern Millie, starring good friends John Knispell and Maria Miller, a.k.a. my younger sister. (I was completely oblivious as to my sister’s role until moments before opening curtain. “Who’s Maria playing?” I asked my brother Alex. “Millie,” he said. Sure enough, she was Millie.)
Being unfamiliar with the alternate Millie-verse, I was truly delighted by the Cutler brothers’ charming take on the classic tale of love, stardom, dance, gold-digging, black-market slavery, imposter landlords, billionaires posing as poor folk, and friendship, all of which set to infectious musical numbers. In my completely objective, non-biased opinion, Maria Miller was the Millie I always wanted but never thought possible. She brought such life to the role, I mistook her for Millie several times before realizing she was my sister. The same applies to John as Jimmy Smith; he actually convinced he was a paperclip salesman secretly acting as the heir to a major fortune. They really fooled me.
(Update: Maria and John are to reprise their roles as each other’s romantic interest in Fiddler on the Roof, coming to the University of Montana’s School of Theatre and Dance this fall. With Maria as Hodel and John as Perchik, I have no doubt this will be an incredible experience for all who attend. This will also be a great time for my introduction to the Fiddle-verse.)
Once back in Billings, I tried to make the most of my three days there by reimmersing myself in my old Billingsian ways (summers ’96-’11, roughly). On my quarter-century birthday, my Montana-induced nostalgia incited me to drive the family’s silver Chevy miniwan on Highway 212 to Red Lodge, Mont., for a brief romp through the forests near Limber Pine campground. En route, I listened to the Beatles’ back-to-back masterpieces Rubber Soul and Revolver, this being what I used to do on similar trips in the past. My run through the pine trees and minor boulder fields was cut short by a fierce downpour — not the type like in Seattle, but heavy rainfall, with lightning bolts visible over the nearby mountaintops, followed almost immediately by booming thunderclaps — and was completely soaked by the time I reached the van. Luckily, there was an over-sized Notre Dame sweatshirt to change into, so I was at least partially dry.
Instead of taking the same 212 route back to Billings, or, heaven forbid, MT 78 to Columbus by way of Absorkee and on to I-90 (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I opted for Highway 308 — you know, the road that weaves through the dry, high desert hills alongside Bear Creek, through Carbon County metropolises such as Belfry, Bridger, and, yes, Bearcreek (population: 83), and past the ghostly shell of Smith Mine #3, the site of the Smith Mine disaster? Whilst on the 308, I listened to the Mars Volta’s most recent effort, Nocturniquet, which I received as a birthday present; it wasn’t the most fitting music for the setting, though the soaring latter half of “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound” served as an appropriate soundtrack when looking across the southern Montana landscape, with the Pryor Mountains looming in the distance. The storm clouds were making their way over the Beartooth Mountains behind me, but I had some distance on them — that is, until I hit a nasty bit of construction between Bearcreek and Belfry, which delayed me about a half hour. The storm had caught up with me by the time I reached Bridger, and it followed me most of the way back to Billings, with Mars Volta and NPR playing all the while.
A few days following the Red Lodge mini-excursion, it was once again time to venture forth. With my dad, Tom, and younger brother, Alex, the three of us headed to the world’s largest ticking time bomb: Yellowstone National Park. (You may not know this, but Yellowstone is, among many other things, a massive volcano, which explains the craters, steaming geysers, and occasional sulfur smells. In fact, if it were to erupt, the the destruction left in its wake would be cataclysmic. You can learn more fun facts about Yellowstone by visiting the National Park Service’s website.)
The three of us approached the Park from the Gardener route, via Paradise Valley, and were welcomed by Teddy Roosevelt’s Roman-esque archway upon entry. We had reservations to stay in a cabin at Silver Gate, a town(ish) on Highway 212, located between tourist favorite Cooke City (not really a city) and the northeast entry of the Park.
Something very important happened during our brief stay in Silver Gate, but that will have to wait for a later date. It deserves its own entry. For now, let’s just say that, in the words of Bilbo Baggins, it was “…a night to remember.”
Once back from Yellowstone, I spent two more days in Billings before heading back to Seattle. I thought life would continue on as normal — work, songwriting, slowly completely the Newsfeed album, blogging — but life has a way of suddenly diverting one’s path.
August and the Encompassing Activities Therein: A Brief Overview of
Within two days of returning to Seattle, I began collaborating with Andrea Desmond, an incredibly talented singer/songwriter/pianist recently moved from California. The connection came about not by my own efforts, but by the kind facilitation of Zach Warnes. Much more will follow about this recent development, but I thought it deserved a mentioning here. For a small, byte-sized taste of what we’ve been up to, check out her song “I Can Wait No Longer,” featuring yours truly on guitars and harmonies, both of which were recorded in my kitchen.
And not two weeks after arriving back, I packed my U-Haul van’s worth of belongings and moved — a whole mile — to a studio apartment near Capitol Hill. Once again, this major development was not of my own doing, but rather facilitated by another Folk Off! buddy: Mariko. (She and her boyfriend have lived in this apartment building for some years, and she was kind enough to refer to the building’s management. There are no friends like Folk Off! friends.) With the help of good friend and Jeff Buckley clone Joe Garvey, the move only took one trip and two-and-a-half hours total, but now, even a month later, I’m still mostly unpacked. Also, I don’t have the internets yet, which makes blog posting all the more difficult. But the new location has allowed for kitchen recording/practicing, something which I’ve never experienced. This, too, shall you also learn more of, but that will come later.
In addition to new beginnings and new surroundings, August/early September was a time of bountiful explorations and frequent concert going. Of the latter, I had the privilege of seeing Regina Spektor (one of the greatest impulse decisions ever, thanks to Andrea) Jack White (another great impulse decision, thanks to Joe), Gotye (or at least half a set), City In Color (the best Canadian band I’ve seen in a while) and M. Ward (the unsung hero of Monsters of Folk who, after that performance, may be my favorite member). That, along with numerous bike rides and hikes (see above photo), has kept me plenty occupied. Again, these aren’t excuses so as much as justifications for withholding publishing. I knew you’d understand.
At any rate, it’s good to be back — digitally speaking. Here’s a parting shot for your panoramic pleasure, taken near the top of Mailbox Peak. Cue Gondor theme now.