Three Years Here

FullSizeRender (3)So it was three years ago, on December 8th, 2011, that I put my toes in the waters of this blogging ocean. Before that point I’d often thought about starting a blog. The idea of having my own space out in this digital wilderness to spout off about, well, whatever, seemed like a great idea. I mostly just wanted to write about music that I love and occasionally my own music. But for the most part this would be my chance to live out those Lester Bang fantasies without any of the drugs and degradation.

After the usual procrastination I deal with when making a big decision I said the hell with it and began the journey known as jhubner73.com. Besides, you know, marrying my high school sweetheart and having some pretty cool kids with her, I feel this was probably one of the best things I ever could have done. I feel like since I started this blog I’ve become more focused. I feel as if I have an audience to my music-loving meanderings and my general existential rants about life and what have you. I never could have imagined how important this would become to me; and the folks I’ve come to know since starting this site. As cliche as this may sound, I feel like I’ve found my people out here. People that love and obsess over music like I do. Like-minded folks, both in art and in life in general. Though we can’t get together for a few stouts at the local pub and talk trash, we can all gather here every day and comment and chat about whatever is on our minds.

Going back to that first year it’s funny and a little painful to read some of the stuff I wrote. I was still attempting to find my blogular voice. I’ve become a much more disciplined writer in the three years since I’ve started this thing. Not only that, but I’ve moved from just music reviews and nonsensical elaborations on soup for New Year’s Eve and the value of Netflix when you’re sick, to band interviews and essays about my own life and anecdotal stories about my childhood. I’ve become a much better writer than I was when I started three years ago.

Sure, it’s just a blog. But for me it’s also a bit of my identity. It’s that internal voice that used to follow me around wherever I went. That voice I kept in my skull because I had nowhere to put it. Expounding on an album I was obsessing over; or relating a childhood memory to something my son told me when I picked him up from school; or some bizarre dream I had when I was seven years old that I never forgot. This is the place for that voice. It’s no put-on. It’s not me attempting to impress a group of strangers because I’m self-conscious. This is the guy that sits in his living room and makes his kids laugh hysterically at ridiculous jokes, or cracks his wife up at a restaurant on a date night. This is the guy that sits and talks on the phone for an hour with his mom because she needs to vent, or shares one too many beers with his best friend because he’s having a hard time. No put-ons here. Just me being honest and sharing things I deem worthy to share.

I’m not ashamed to admit it, folks; I love this space called jhubner73.com. Thanks for coming by and making it more than just an online journal for my ravings. If you come by and read regularly or semi-regularly…or even once a month, thanks. I never imagined I’d be a part of a community. I just wanted some place to scream into the abyss. I wanted somewhere to direct my overzealous spittle and spite. The fact that folks from all over the world stop in and drop me a line, indulge my thoughts and opinions, and even engage me and add their own two cents, well that’s just the icing on the cake.

It’s been three years now since I moved into this place. I like it here. I think I’ll stay a while longer. You are welcome anytime. I’ll always have some beers in the fridge and some pretzels in the pantry. But feel free to bring some snacks as well. Sharing is caring.

This is the very first thing I posted on here. It’s rough, but it was a start. It was also the first music review I wrote and submitted to a local publication. It was turned down. So I wrote this for my blog a couple days after I started it. I submitted it to the same publication and it was accepted. So began my career as a published music journalist(hack.) Enjoy…and don’t judge me. Please?

 

The Night Terrors :: Pavor Nocturnus

night terrorsPavor Nocturnus is Australia’s The Night Terrors indulging their dark, occult side with brooding, lustful glee. They’ve flirted with that side of their sound on their previous records Back To Zero and Spiral Vortex, but never to this degree. On those previous records there were hints of horror, but those albums settled more in the sci-fi and space realm; they felt like progressive records scoring some lost, epic fantasy film with heavy synths and theremin. They were otherworldly and intense. But this time around galaxies and wormholes have been set aside for the macabre. Pavor Nocturnus is a dark, brooding, and intense musical journey.

The Night Terrors recorded this album thanks to the Melbourne Town Hall and their request for the band to compose a piece of music on the Town Hall’s pipe organ. This is not just some run-of-the-mill pipe organ. This is the southern hemisphere’s largest pipe organ. Standing three stories tall, this is a gothic monolith. The band had just released their album Spiral Vortex and were going to go on a tour in support of that album, but felt that this was too great of an opportunity to pass up. So they recorded the album in the middle of the night on a Friday the 13th(nice, huh?) The album’s title refers more to the fact that they recorded the record late at night, more than wanting to be spooky. But yes, Pavor Nocturnus is “The Night Terrors” in Latin.

As far as the music goes, the album is split up into two movements. Movement One is side A and consists of “Pavor Nocturnus”, “Megafauna”, “Asleep With The Bats”, and “Kuceli Woke Up In The Graveyard”. Movement Two on side B consists of “Blue Black”, “Gravissima”, “Delta Waves”, and “Spectrophilia”. Each side does feel like four distinct tracks, yet they flow effortlessly like a true piece of gothic music. Where Miles Brown’s theremin would often act as a detached voice singing a melody on previous albums, this time around it feels almost operatic. It’s sound haunting like a ghost within the walls of some long forgotten castle. The pipe organ, while a heavy hitter in the overall sound of the record, never feels overused or pushed up in the mix. It definitely acts as the foundation of the record. It gives the band a solid starting point to build these great songs. Movement One’s “Pavor Nocturnus”, while not having any sort of guitar, comes on like a doom metal heavy hitter with the pipe organ filling every nook and cranny with gothic massiveness. With the synth stabs and Brown’s theremin playing overhead, and some great drumming to keep the track moving, it’s a great way to introduce the album. “Megafauna” is as progressive as it is macabre. It’s as if Goblin came from space and not some crumbling estate in the Italian countryside to create music. It sounds like it should be the theme of Phantom of the Opera: A Space Opera. There’s a great mix of intense and subtle, with “Kuceli Woke Up In The Graveyard” ending the side on a more quieter note. Movement Two opens with the rather mournful “Blue Black”, reminiscent of Walter Rizzatti’s work on the House By The Cemetery score, and “Gravissima” continues that vibe quite wonderfully. “Delta Waves” is mournful and epic, while the closer “Spetrophilia” puts the southern hemisphere’s largest pipe organ front and center while the theremin moves along wonderfully with it.

Pavor Nocturnus is a stellar, gothic piece of music that doesn’t require a love of the macabre and all the things that go bump in the night. But if you’re like me, it definitely enhances the experience. The Night Terrors have created yet another beautiful and haunting record that should be standard listening on Halloween, or beyond.

9.2 out of 10

As an added bonus, if you were in Melbourne, Australia on Halloween you could have seen The Night Terrors perform Pavor Nocturnus live at the Melbourne Town Hall. A sight and sound to behold, I’m sure.

 

 

Hold On Hope: Fort Wayne Celebrates The Music of Guided By Voices

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by E.A. Poorman

So way back at the beginning of September Fort Wayne was all buzzing about the then just-released news that Guided By Voices was going to be donning the stage at C2G Music Hall. After years and years of heavy GBV fans in the Fort thinking there wouldn’t be a snowball’s chance in Hell the Ohio indie rock Godfathers would ever play the River City, our good friend and vinyl pusherman Morrison Agen of Neat Neat Neat Records had done the impossible. Well, it turns out it wasn’t all that impossible at all. He just asked Bob Pollard what it would take to get Guided By Voices to the Fort to play a show. That was pretty much it, really.

Not more than two weeks after the date had been set, days had been taken off of work, and dreams had been made the news broke that Guided By Voices were no more. All existing concert dates were cancelled. Hopes and dreams dashed. Then Morrison had an idea: instead of Guided By Voices performing their own songs, some of Fort Wayne’s best and brightest would perform them instead and they’d slap “tribute show” on the marquee instead. Lemons into lemonade.

Before this music crisis was averted, I wondered how Morrison got Bob Pollard’s phone number in the first place. “Bob’s been in my store a couple times”, said Morrison as we discussed the show over the phone. “Actually, the first time he came up I was on vacation, and he told me that, He drove all the way up to come see me and I wasn’t here.”

A year later Morrison said Pollard returned to Neat Neat Neat Records in search of Beatles records and he said he played it a little too cool when the GBV mastermind arrived. “So when he came in I recognized him immediately”, said Agen, “and then proceeded to promptly play it a little too cool. Like not talk to him at all and just absolutely give him his space and not even say a word, even though I’m pretty sure he knew who I was since I have a section in my store that says ‘Bob Pollard and Associated Projects.”

Back in the spring of 2014 Bob Pollard returned once again to Morrison’s shop and they got to spend a few hours just talking music. Agen said that since then him and Pollard have corresponded both by phone and email. Agen has even talked to Pollard’s wife. He has a real rapport with Pollard. On the day before Record Store Day when Bob visited the NNN Records Morrison brought up the idea of GBV playing Fort Wayne. “One of the conversations we had before Record Store Day was what’s it gonna take to bring GBV to town?” Morrison said. “He(Bob Pollard) said ‘you know I don’t think we’ve ever played Fort Wayne’.” After some prices were thrown around and logistics were discussed Morrison received a call a few months later. “So six months later I get an email from his(Bob Pollard’s) manager. We made it happen and signed the deal and started marketing, selling tickets, and all that other stuff. And then a week after we started selling tickets Bob decided that Guided By Voices was no more.”

At this point most folks would just curl up into a ball and cry themselves to sleep for about a week and then move on. Maybe occasionally look to the past and tear up thinking about what could’ve been. But you don’t know Morrison Agen. Morrison was driving around that afternoon the news broke of Guided By Voices’ demise running errands when he got a phone call about the show getting cancelled.”So later that day I was outside my apartment trying not to freak out a little bit. I live next door to Jon Ross and I saw him walking out to his car when I said ‘Hey come here for a minute,’ and told him about everything when the idea popped into my head to just say f**k it, let’s just have a party and just do a tribute show. Jon was like ‘Yes. Absolutely.'”

With C2G Music Hall having an opening on October 25th, the venue was already set for the Guided By Voices tribute show. Now all that was left was who was going to be playing? Here’s how Morrison put it, “We can get the best and brightest of Fort Wayne together and have them learn a bunch of Guided By Voices songs and we’ll just make a party of it.” That party will open with Morrison and his daughter Addison performing Guided By Voices’ “Hold On Hope”. Exterminate All Rational Thought will be hitting the stage next with Morrison helping out on vocal duties as they hit the later-era GBV material. Streetlamps For Spotlights will be up next performing songs off of Univeral Truths And Cycles, Mag Earwig, and Do The Collapse. Then supergroup Hardcore UFOs, which consists of Derek Mauger, Zach Smith, Morrison Agen, and Ryan Holquist, will be hitting the stage running through tracks from Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand. And finally, closing out the night will be Thunderhawk performing songs from Isolation Drills. As an added bonus you can snag the brand new album by Thunderhawk exclusively at this show. So get on that.

So here’s what you need to know: C2G Music Hall, October 25th, $10 at the door, and this show is all ages, folks. Come out, bring the kids, get your GBV on with Fort Wayne’s best and brightest. Oh, and don’t worry dad. You can still have a beer as there will be beer and wine available. And the rumor is that possibly Bob Pollard might actually be at this show, watching his influence and inspiration take the form of Fort Wayne bands lovingly covering his songs. But like I said, it’s just a rumor. For $10, I think it’s worth it. Do you want to be the guy at the office Monday morning that wasn’t there to see Bob Pollard drinking a Miller Lite in the crowd at C2G? While Thunderhawk is playing “The Brides Have Hit Glass”? I didn’t think so.

I thought I would end this with a few of the folks performing sharing with us what their favorite Guided By Voices albums are and why:

Morrison Agen: “You know, I don’t know if I have a favorite album but I have favorite songs that when I put on that album they make me go crazy. “Everywhere With Helicopters” is a brilliant, brilliant song. I think “Game Of Pricks” is a really, really amazing song. I think “Surgical Focus” is an amazing love song. “Game Of Pricks” is an amazing break up,’f**k you song.”

Derek Mauger: “Its a tie; Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand. And I’m super lucky those are the two albums our group is doing. Every song on those records are ear worms. GBV doesn’t waste time on verses. The songs on them are all anthemic hooks.”

Josh Hall: “If you ask any musician or hardcore music fan, they all have an album that saved them. I don’t mean that in any literal sense. They have an album that left a permanent mark. An album that consumed a year of your life. It changed the way you walked, talked, dressed; it changed the way you heard other bands. You remember what shitty beer you drank and how cheap it was, how bad your apartment smelled, that friend you used to have, that girl you thought you’d still be with today. For me that album is Isolation Drills, which is what we’ll be playing songs from.

To actually answer your question. 1- Isolation Drills is probably the closest to how GBV sounds live. It’s a straight up rock album; just two guitars, bass, drums and vocals. There’s very few overdubs/effects and zero guitar solos despite having one of the best rock guitarists at the time. Isolation Drills is my favorite album but definitely not their best. Most of the hardcore fans love the lo fi stuff. There’s an irreplaceable charm about a school teacher trying to make an arena rock album on a 4 track in his basement on the weekends, and actually succeeding.

2- it’s the only GBV album where Bob reveals anything about himself and his life. Most of the time he’s singing about robots and spaceships. I love that stuff too and I’m sure there’s all kinds of coded messages in there. I’ve been to more GBV shows than I can count on my fingers and toes and the crowd would always light up when they played something off isolation drills. Hopefully we can get out there and not butcher it too bad.”

Zach Smith: “Live From Austin, TX (Austin City Limits). It perfectly encapsulates what I love about the band. It is brilliant yet sloppy, high energy yet clearly beer-fueled, and acts as a best-of compilation that also updates some of the setlist’s more primitively recorded origins.”

Jason Davis: “What a tough request! To pick a favorite album by GBV is like choosing your favorite Kurt Vonnegut book. To name your favorite song is like deciding on the perfect James Baldwin quote. Robert Pollard and GBV are prolific. Everyone knows this. Every album is littered with true pop gems, whether they be lo-fi, noise collage, folk, pump your fist in the air arena rock, new wave, heartfelt ballad, or drunken serenade. Favorite album? I would have to point to four records that define an era. Mag Earwig, Do the Collapse, Isolation Drills, and Universal Truths and Cycles. Are these the Hi-Fi years? Yes. They are also the years in which GBV had bigger budgets, recorded in nice studios, and enlisted outside help. Was it the Ric Ocasek or Rob Schnapf productions or the fact GBV had been working toward that big sound all along. It does not matter. “Bulldog Skin”, “Teenage FBI”, “Hold on Hope”, “Chasing Heather Crazy”, “Glad Girls”, “Everywhere is Helicopter”, and many more. Great songs, great sounds, great records!”

Ryan Holquist: “Do the Collapse. Ric Ocasek reigns in people who sometimes need it, and can usually do no wrong.”

And finally, although he’s not playing that night I had to ask Mark Hutchins because he’s the guy that made me listen to Alien Lanes and love it. Plus, if you’ve ever heard his New Pale Swimmers you’d realize what a true fan of GBV he really is. “Alien Lanes. Why? It was my first GBV album. I bought it when it came out, knowing these guys were from Dayton and becoming kind of a big deal (I had to choose between Alien Lanes or a Brainiac record. Go figure). The short songs and basement sensibility hooked me right away. I had just come out of a big, loud band and was doing a lot of 4-track recording… You can imagine what a find this was. Plus, some of this stuff sounded like uncovered bootlegs of the Beatles jamming with Pete Townshend and Sid Barrett. I didn’t see GBV live until 2000, but even the most rickety songs on Alien Lanes transcended their wobbly cassette recordings; you knew these songs were huge. The arena-ready sound came to pass, but it’s no accident that a bunch of Alien Lanes tunes showed up in GBV’s (and solo Pollard’s) sets for the last 20 years. ‘And then the time will come when you motor away’.”

The Kids Are All Right: Spirits and the Melchizedek Children

spirits

Photo by Chad Hess Photography

by E. A. Poorman

 

There’s a great, cavernous sound coming from down south. It’s based in Atlanta, GA, but bellows to the far reaches of the universe. Simple, acoustic songs that swell into mammoth psychedelic swirls that will consume you if you open your minds and hearts to the concept. Spirits and the Melchizedek Children are the source of this spiritual and musical wave. Jason Elliot began this journey on his own, writing songs alone on his acoustic. Soon enough though, he’d found fellow travelers and like-minded musicians to help him spread his lullabies to eternity.

Our local psych friends and freaks Heaven’s Gateway Drugs have invited Spirits and the Melchizedek Children to the Fort to play a show with them at the Brass Rail on October 6th. Spirits’ Jason Elliot was kind enough to answer a few questions from yours truly.

EAP: Tell me a little about the band. How did Spirits and the Melchizedek Children come about? Do you have a particular interest in the Book of Genesis?

Jason Elliot: “(laughs)I guess you can say that we had an interest in the Book Of Genesis, being a subjective take on the creation of life, but I feel like it goes beyond that. Spirits started as a solo project. Back then I would take extensive amounts of heavy psychedelics in my search for some kind of secret doorway into living life to its fullest. I was eager to find something to shine away all the lonely darkness that I had created for myself. That “secret doorway” was never found, but I developed some life saving tools to help me cope. Melchizedek was something or someone that I had always heard about, and the more I looked into the word, I found that it was quite endless. Melchizedek is talked about in all sorts of beliefs, religions, the occult, and  books. It’s always referred to as a “Holder of Keys, Keys to the Kingdom” whatever kingdom that might be? Who knows. It’s similar to the idea of Alchemy. There’s no magic stone or secret formula that will change coal into gold or silver. It’s you! You are that piece-of-shit coal that needs to be turned into gold or silver. You hold the keys to whatever you desire. You just have to find a way to use them properly. Or, I can give you the shorter answer… The word Melchizedek is mysterious. I wanted that enigmatic element to connect with the post-cryptic-quasi-cultist-mystique music we make.”

EAP: Spirits’ sound is very distinct. It’s dark and cavernous, like if My Morning Jacket’s ‘It Still Moves’ was recorded by The Sisters of Mercy. What informs the sound of Spirits and the Melchizedek Children? Religion? Spirituality? Life? 

Jason Elliot: “Nice Comparison! We want to move the listener, to sooth the listener — we want to scare the listener. Life and it’s beautiful tragedies can be used as fuel for the fire. What is seen and not seen in our surroundings is our primary source of inspiration.” 

EAP: Musically where are you drawing inspiration from?

Jason Elliot: “Music that invites the listener to imagine, think and wander has always been a personal influence of mine. Anywhere from Tchaikovsky to Peter Green and God Speed you! Black Emperor to The Beatles.”

EAP: Spirits and the Melchizedek Children hail from Atlanta(Hail, Atlanta!) What’s the music scene like there? I can only imagine it’s quite diverse.

Jason Elliot: “It’s wonderful. There’s a bit of everything here. The city is large and so is the scene, but everyone manages to support and keep in touch with each other. It’s a diamond in the rough that the country should really take notice of.”

EAP: On October 6th you guys will be landing in the Fort for a show at the Brass Rail with Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. How did this show come about?

Jason Elliot: “We played with HGD last spring in Muncie, IN at BE HERE NOW. We all got along and have a similar taste in music, art and life in general. They helped us get a last minute show at O’s that same tour as we were passing through Fort Wayne. We ended up meeting Morrison Agen who owns Neat Neat Neat Records, and when we wanted to play Ft Wayne again I just made one call to Morrison and the show was booked with Heavens Gateway Drugs. We’re really looking forward to playing with them again. We love when we make new friends and things just work out when the next time you are passing though a town to play.”

EAP: Let’s talk a little about your excellent new long player, So Happy, It’s Sad. Where was the album recorded? Was it self-produced?

Jason Elliot: “We recorded So Happy, It’s Sad with Ben Price at Studilaroche in Decatur, GA. We had our songs written and ready to track, but once we got in the studio we quickly found that Ben was a lot more than just some engineer that sets up mics and hits record. The whole band had the mindset of wanting to make it a very spacious record, really capturing the overall theme of the record through depth and dynamics. Ben is now a vital part in what we do now for sure.”

EAP: Speaking of writing songs, what’s the writing process like in Spirits and the Melchizedek Children?

Jason Elliot: “Having a good communication through patience and our individual instruments is a very important part of our songwriting. Ryan, Bryan and Joe get it! I’ll always write the skeleton of the song, imagining what it needs and wants, then bring it to them to create the body with flesh and blood. It’s really quite magical every time we finish a song. Things evolve into greater things, but for the most part we communicate through feeling and a keen sense in how we feel a song should move.”

EAP: What’s the current top 5 road trip albums in the Spirits’ van?

Jason Elliot: “So many, but the top 5 as of late would have to be Dawn of Midi Dysnomia, Sunns Images du Fatur, Do Make Say Think, any album. We’ve done it once, but any more would be suicidal, but R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet series” (for those 4 hour DC traffic jams), Autolux Transit Transit, and Eric Satie. Really anything for those desert drives that are long and silent.”

Mark your calendars for October 6th. You need to be at the Brass Rail to see Spirits and the Melchizedek Children. They’ll be there with our pals Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. HGD will be playing songs from their new album so you’ll want to hear that. But really, Spirits’ are a band to see. Check their album out at http://satmc.bandcamp.com/album/so-happy-its-sad . Keep up with band at https://www.facebook.com/Spirits.and.the.Melchizedek.Children and at http://www.spiritsatl.com/.

 

 

Fifteen Years Gainfully Employed

2014-07-02 15.55.25Yep, this is my anniversary month at my place of work. I’ve been working in shipping/receiving/inventory management at (insert orthopedic company name here) for fifteen years now. Before that I was at (insert another orthopedic company name here) for six years. Prior to that I worked for two months in the newspaper industry, a year renting porn and video games to troglodytes(one of my favorite jobs), prior to that I was stock boy and ponytail-wearing grocery bagger, and there were even a few stints in the food industry. Granted, I was 19 when I started my six year stint at my first orthopedic company, so everything prior to that was high school-age craziness.

So yeah, I’m celebrating being at the same employer for 15 years. I can tell you it’s been a bumpy 15 years to say the least. Within two weeks of starting there I was wondering what in the hell I’d done leaving my cozy auditing job, with my own cubicle, voicemail, pager, and frequent flyer miles(I traveled all over the U.S. checking inventories of my employer’s products at hospitals, offices, basements, and trunks of cars.) Well, I know WHY I left that job. My wife was pregnant and I knew I didn’t want to be in Tuscon, AZ loading inventories into a laptop while she was having an ultrasound. My current manager was a turd of a human being and I knew he wouldn’t give two shits about my situation so I started looking for something else on the sly while I took flights to Lubbock, Billings, and Miami Lakes. Turns out this other orthopedic company liked the cut of my jib(at least according to my resume) and called me in for an interview. One morning while I slept off a late flight and an even later arrival home I was woke up on the couch by a phone call. This orthopedic company wanted me to come in for an interview. Of course I said yes and headed in. After a rather strange interview with the flightiest Human Resources woman I’d ever met I met with who would become my supervisor. Her name was Judy and she was the size of a Volkswagon Bug. To most I’m sure she was quite intimidating. To me she seemed like a cartoon character come to life. Or someone I would make up and tell stories about to my friends and family. Well, after a series of questions about stressfull situations and what I felt were my strengths and weaknesses I said goodbye and was on my way. Within a week I’d gotten a call from the weird Human Resources lady telling me she needed some of my urine. I’d gotten the job and they needed a drug test.

After countless battles of wills, idiot supervisors, managers, General Managers, and former fellow employees I’ve made it through with very few scars. I was lucky because they hired another guy for the same department. We hired in the same day, started the same day, went through orientation together, and are still working together to this day. We’re ten years apart(him being the older one) but you’d think we’d grown up together since kiddos. Two smart ass peas in a pod. We basically got each other through those first rough couple years.

Dream job? Not on your life. But it is a job that’s allowed me to fulfill dreams for my kids, wife, and yes even me. It’s allowed me to put a roof over our heads. It allowed my wife to quit her job so she could stay home with our kiddos so they never had to know that word “daycare”. It’s affored us vacations, affordable healthcare, sick pay, holiday pay, and general peace of mind. So while I’m not making a living playing music or writing about music, I’m happy, content, and my family is happy and content.

Plus, as a gift the company gave me a bunch of “recognize points” that can be spent at an online store. Know what I got? A turntable and noise-cancelling headphones. With those Bose speakers downstairs it looks like I have my basement listening nook complete. That’s an anniversary gift that keeps on giving.

Peace out.

The Art of Art

photo (35)So is there an art to being artistic? It seems like being an artist shouldn’t be an art in itself. The idea of that seems really fake and non-creative in the worst sense. But lately I’ve come across some situations where it seems like being seen as an artist, or playing the part of an artist is an art in itself. There’s never any real product or fruit of one’s labor showing how truly artistic and creative one is. It’s just the anguish and confusion shown on this “artist’s” face that is the art itself. It’s all struggle and no art.

Now I’m perfectly aware that the struggle of making art is part of the process. Hell, it’s half the process really. And then when the artist has finally completed their masterwork more often than not it’s this anti-climactic kind of thing. Before anyone has a chance to love what this artist has created the creative force is back at it attempting to one-up themselves. The struggle that they suffered through for however long was this quick jerk off. The thrill is gone and now we’re off to the next struggle. The next creative, angst-y ride to self-fulfillment. That to me is the life cycle of creativity. But that’s just how it is. Can you have true art without struggle, personal conflict, and soul-crushing defeat? Or really, can you have true art with only the starving artist part? No creative climax, just some guy or gal dry-humping “art” until they’re chafed and have worn a hole in their hand-me-down jeans? In my opinion, I don’t think so. You can have all the pieces you want, but unless they eventually come together it’s never really art. It’s just a grab bag of ideas. Or even worse, nothing more than a hack wearing the mask of an artist. Playing the part for years in order to have some sort of identity.

I’ve never seen myself as an artist. I’m just a working class schlub, married and with kids. Doing the 9 to 5 thing to keep food on the table, a roof over our head, and a record spinning on the turntable. When time allows I go down to my basement dungeon and write, record, and play pretend that I’m a songwriter. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was about 14 years old. By the time I was 19 I had a 4-track tape recorder and began this long journey of putting sounds to a form of share-able media. I was a closet artist, I guess. From back then to right now I’ve never been a performing artist. I don’t do stages, crowds, and general pomp and circumstance. I’m an artist in solitude. It’s very much like my love of being a fan of music. There’s nothing better than spinning music in my living room and enjoying what it does to me emotionally. I just prefer writing songs and sharing them for others to enjoy in their living rooms, cars, or wherever. I have the utmost respect for musicians that can hit a stage and play for a bunch of music-hungry folks that want that communal experience. That’s just not the kind of artist I am.

Okay, so I do sorta see myself as an artist. Sorta.

I do create things. I create sounds and turn them into something palpable. I’m not saying I’m great or anything, but at least I’m finishing what I start. Painters are artists, songwriters are artists, sculptors are artists, photographers are artists, chefs are artists, writers are artists,….as long as they finish something.

What brought all of this on you are wondering? Well, I recently hosted a musical to-do in my studio. I was asked by someone close to help them work on and possibly record a song or two of theirs that they want to record. I was happy to help out. Well after years of planning this get-together it finally happened on Friday. This musician friend had several parts that would add up to a song, but they weren’t sure how to put these parts together. We spent a good portion of the day contemplating, second-guessing, and him-hawing around attempting to assemble this song. After six hours we pretty much had nothing, although my musician compatriot did say I’d helped him out. He had mapped out what he thinks might be a viable way to present these parts to make a song. Nothing recorded, nothing to really show for all the hard work except a piece of paper and some words scratched on it. To me it seemed like a total bust, but he felt like he’d gotten somewhere. In the long run I guess that’s all that matters. I wanted to help him out and apparently I did. But it got me thinking about the struggle of art. I mean, he was really struggling. He’s had these pieces of music for a very long time and hasn’t been able to make something of them. He said he can’t work on his own. He needs someone to feed off of. He needs a sounding board. It seems like it’s more struggle than creation with him. It almost doesn’t even seem worth the trouble, at least to me. I know there needs to be struggle, but there also needs to be some sort of satisfaction or what’s the point?

Anyways, this “art of art” thing has been rattling in my head for the last couple of days. I needed to write it out and look at it. What do you think? Is this all just psycho-babble? I mean, in my head this all sounded so profound. Maybe there’s such a thing as the art of struggling? Maybe there’s someone out there that’s the Picasso of struggling. If so, more power to him or her. I’ll stick with the old adage of hard work will get you something. Something besides gray hairs, bleeding ulcers, and constant worry.

I struggle enough to find pants that are comfortable. At least let my art come a little easier than that.

Strand of Oaks: Let The Healing Begin

strand-of-oaks-healI’m not sure what more I can add to the Greek chorus of praise Strand of Oaks’ has been receiving regarding their new album HEAL. In fact, I might make things worse throwing in my two cents. But hey, that’s what I do.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Strand of Oaks before I heard the blazing track “Goshen ’97”. It’s not that I didn’t like Tim Showalter’s music. Not at all. It’s just that it’s hard for me to really fall for singer/songwriter stuff that is mainly a guy or gal and an acoustic guitar. I get so distracted listening to the simplicity. I always find myself wishing there was some piano, or an interesting drum part thrown in. Analog synth hovering above the mix? Yes please. But still, I had a friend tell me I should check out Strand of Oaks; in particular the album Pope Killdragon. I did listen to it and I quite liked it. But something happened(I walked away from my computer; I slept; I drank one too many Old Styles;) and I’d forgotten about Timothy Showalter’s Strand of Oaks.

One thing, however, had stayed with me during that one listen; and that was that Tim Showalter was from Goshen, IN. That’s only about 25 miles north of my stomping grounds. I was born at Goshen Hospital. I used to go to the Concord Mall when I was a teenager and buy cassettes at Super Sounds. We’d occasionally chow down at MCL Cafeteria. I used to go to Ox Bow Park with my grandparents on Sundays for picnic lunches. I knew this place very well and this guy I was listening to online grew up there. There was this weird Midwest/Michiana connection. Well fast forward to a couple months ago when I heard “Goshen ’97” online and was blown away. Holy shit, that sounds like J. Mascis shredding over my new favorite summer jam! Then you listen to the lyrics and it’s this guy talking about growing up f’d up and loving music. It’s an anthem for the disgruntled and disenfranchised youth of America. “Singing Pumpkins in the mirror/porn and menthols under my bed”, “I was lonely, but I was having fun” he sings triumphantly before pleading in the chorus “I don’t wanna start all over again.” It wasn’t just a song about misspent youth, listening to 90s alternative music, smoking, and getting f’d up. It was a song about the adult version of that Midwest kid looking back with nostalgia because he’s emotionally in a place where anything is better than where’ he’s at. This song was the most honest, sadsack anthem I’d ever heard.

I immediately preordered Strand of Oaks HEAL(it was preordained by the Gods.) To my surprise “Goshen ’97” wasn’t a fluke. Every song is this massive load of emotional vitriol; a guy consumed by his wrongs and wrongs done to him but not inclined to be destroyed by them. In my eyes the very essence of great art is the ability of the artist to take the shit life serves up on a lousy platter and turn it into something beautiful. Jarring sometimes, but beautiful nonetheless. Tim Showalter has done that with HEAL. The rocker that opens this album is followed up by some heavy synth-filled songs that make me think of one of my other favorite albums of the year, The War on Drugs’ Lost In The Dream. Big, overblown electronic drums blare through the speakers as Juno synths pulsate clearing the way for Showalter to open his chest and bleed. “HEAL”, “Same Emotions”, and “Shut In”, well pretty much all of side A pulsate like a mix of New Order, Depeche Mode, and The Sisters of Mercy all the while baring his soul, regardless of how painful it may be. “JM” is an ode to Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and The Magnola Electric Co. Molina is an artist I never particularly got into, although I know he was a favorite of many, including Showalter. His song channels Neil Young and Crazy Horse in the overblown, fuzzed-out guitar and even channels a bit of Molina’s own “Farewell Transmission”. It’s a fitting tribute and a hell of a damn song. “Plymouth” also brings Adam Granduciel’s The War on Drugs to mind, but with Showalter’s knack for nuanced storytelling. “Mirage Year”, well, it’s a gut-wrenching personal account of Showalter’s personal struggles. Much has been said of Tim Showalter and his wife and the struggles they’ve gone through. Where one artist may have been rather ugly in recounting the painful transgressions of a hurting relationship, Strand of Oaks is brutally honest but never ugly. Singing like the song’s a therapy session with the universe. Never hurtful, just hurt. I’m sure he’s still hurt and will hurt for a long time.

I don’t know. This is a lot of what many have written about HEAL, but I felt I wanted to say my peace. This is an exquisite record. A truly honest, rocking, and emotional rock and roll record. You need to hear it. Now.

And Tim, if you ever visit your old stomping grounds, maybe we could go digging for vinyl at Ignition Music, drink a 12 pack, and go shoot some pool up in Elkhart. Just throwing it out there.