Stuntman : A Few Words On My Friend Mark Hutchins

I woke up to the news that one of my good friends was dead. Before coffee, before the full brunt of the new day had come into focus, before I’d even put on socks I sat in my chair and saw posts on social media from friends and acquaintances talking of a great loss in our part of the universe. My friend, musical brother, and fellow curmudgeonly middle-aged dad Mark Hutchins is gone. No more emails, no more messages, no more shared cups of coffee at Sweetwater Music, and no more collaborations with a man I considered as much a big brother as a friend who happened to be a songwriting genius.

I’ve known Mark for close to 8 years now. Back in 2009 he reached out to me via Myspace(remember that?) We both had music accounts on there, him for his bands Vandolah and New Pale Swimmers, and me for Goodbyewave. Mark knew me from the many CDs I’d sent in to local magazine Whatzup for review. It was a big deal around here to get your DIY-produced album in the pages of Whatzup, and especially when DM Jones gave you a glowing review. DM Jones was the nom de plume of Mark Hutchins when he was in music journalist mode. He’d reviewed four of my CDs from 2006 to 2009, and finally reached out to me with nothing but words of encouragement in the summer of 2009. I was in awe, as I’d heard Vandolah and was blown away by their album Please. Mark was as much a storyteller as a songwriter, and his songs were homes for characters as diverse as stuntmen, lovelorn, and of course the disenfranchised and misunderstood. I think in his heart of hearts Hutchins truly wanted to be a writer of stories, as opposed to a writer of songs. He had a knack for painting these vivid pictures, accompanied by beautifully ornamented music.

Yeah, and this guy was sending me a message telling me he loved my work. Jesus.

This began a long distance friendship and collaboration that continued up to just last year. He asked me if I’d ever want to contribute to his songs. He worked alone at home and would love to have me add some of my musical ideas. I ended up contributing to nearly every album he put out from 2009 to 2016. The first was a song called “First Off The Moon” from his first proper solo album Sleepy Furnace. I played piano on that song. I don’t really know how to play piano, but I played piano just the same. I had an opportunity to collaborate with this mountain of a local music legend and I couldn’t let him down. Mark was pretty open to whatever I’d throw his way and he’d work it in one way or another in the tracks. When I’d write a song of my own he was one of the first people I’d send a file to. I wanted him to like what I was doing. His opinion mattered greatly to me.

Outside of music we became sounding boards to each other for our disenchantment with politics, religion, music trends, and just about everything else that bugged us as middle-aged guys trying to get by in the world. We also bonded over Kurt Vonnegut, Wilco, musical toys, 4-track cassette recording, DIY aesthetics, and being dads. Mark was 6 years older than me, which put him at the same age as my older brother. That age difference, along with my adoration for the guy’s talent and his biting Midwest wit, put him more in line as a long distance big brother than musical peer. I never saw myself even close to his level of ability. I was somewhere on the map. Somewhere in my own little musical world while Mark locked into the earth’s vibrations and connected on some other human level which, I think, may have been eating away at him a little more year by year.

In all the time I’ve known Mark, I’m not sure I ever got to really know him. There always seemed to be an invisible wall that followed him around, keeping folks a safe distance away. He always seemed to be inside his own head even when in conversations(though he was a good conversationalist.) He wasn’t much for social gatherings and chit chat. Despite being a powerhouse behind a mic and an acoustic guitar(and he reveled in putting hecklers in their place), he was a quiet guy and would prefer to keep to himself. I don’t know what it was he struggled with, but I know there was a dark cloud that followed him. He dealt with it the best he could, but not without his share of wounds. Not without his share of hurt.

Photo by Duane Eby

There’s not much more I can say other than I’m saddened by the passing of my friend. Mark was a musician I admired and will continue to admire. But more than that he was a friend. Someone I could relate to as a working class clock puncher, a father, a guy struggling to make sense of the world, and as a human being. Someone who I could get sound advice from. Someone who could talk Tweedy and Turkel. Vic Chesnutt and Kurt Vonnegut.

You will be greatly missed Mark. So it goes.

Nightswimming : Mark Hutchins Talks New Pale Swimmers Digital Return

by EA Poorman

Mark Hutchins used to make the rounds as one of the premier Fort Wayne songwriters. He started making a name for himself in the band Vandolah, which to my recollection recorded one of the best local albums to grace the cd racks at Wooden Nickel Music called Please. Hutchins also made a little album called Sleepy Furnace, the first album he put out under his own name. Another stellar local album that stands up among the best. But in 2006, Hutchins followed the muse to the way of 4-track cassette recording. New Pale Swimmers was a GBV-inspired 4-track project where Mark would hit record on a little Tascam cassette recorder and just let ideas fly. It was a short-lived project, but one that if you ever had a chance to hear the music you never forgot it.

Recently Hutchins was asked about New Pale Swimmers, which got him thinking about the old tunes. He figured why not digitize the songs and put ’em up on Bandcamp for all to enjoy, which he did. Along with some brand new music he recorded over the last year, Mark has put up all the full-lengths and EPs he recorded as New Pale Swimmers. I sat down and talked with Mark about the New Pale Swimmers, the digital releases, and being a 21st century artist.

EA Poorman: So it’s been quite a few years since New Pale Swimmers have made a sound. You’ve recently put together a Bandcamp page that’s collected most of the albums and EPs from your side project to a convenient place to binge them. What made you decide to unearth these tunes now?

Mark Hutchins: A few people had asked about it, so I put the two full-lengths and an EP up on Bandcamp. Then I got the itch to go full-on 4-track cassette recorder and combined freshly recorded stuff with a few tunes I’d done last year. Now folkscan FINALLY experience the entire NPS catalog. And pay what they want. Or just listen for free. It’s okay; I’m a 21st-century artist. I live under a bridge.

EA Poorman: For those not in the know, can you give me a little background on New Pale Swimmers? How did the project come about? Who was involved? What was the inspiration for the NPS sound and aesthetic? How long did it last?

Mark Hutchins: I decided at some point to challenge myself by coming up with an album title and all the track names in sequence… then write and record all the songs in a week or two. It’s always just been me. I can’t tell you exactly what triggered this, but I’ve always been a fan of DIY, unfettered and unfiltered music. I’ve done plenty of projects that were second guessed, fussed over, refined and tweaked to death. This isn’t necessarily a reaction to it as much as it is a vacation from it–it’s the closest feeling to being a kid again, musically. Hit “record” and go nuts. Tape hiss is comfort food.

EA Poorman: So how many full lengths did you record under the NPS moniker? How many EPs? What was the typical recording process like for a NPS joint? Were you the sole songwriter?

Mark Hutchins: I did two full lengths, self titled and then Buzz Cat. A few years later, I did an EP called World Beater Takes Five. Then there are three more EPs I pulled together this year. The first NPS projects were a mixture of 4-track cassette and computer-based recording program. Some songs even morph from one to the other.

EA Poorman: With this being such a personal project, how often did you take NPS out into the Fort Wayne night life? The mid-2000s were a pretty happening time in the Fort Wayne original music scene.

Mark Hutchins: Except for maybe a gig or two, I never took this stuff to the street. But when NPS started in 2006, Fort Wayne was humming. There were so many original bands at the time… I’d venture to guess that Fort Wayne rivaled Bloomington and Indy at the time. It was really inspiring.

EA Poorman: So besides the old school stuff, you recorded some new NPS material and included it on the Bandcamp page?

Mark Hutchins: I did! Three of the EPs are almost all brand-new music. It’s like having a fit… I recorded a bunch of tunes that I titled first, then back in the closet goes the 4-track, for who knows how long. Don’t ask me how I managed to get a closet under a bridge.

EA Poorman: Probably the same way I did, which we’ll keep a secret. So besides the unearthing of New Pale Swimmers, you’ll also be playing a songwriter’s showcase on March 24th at Deer Park Irish Pub. Can you tell me a little about this show? Deer Park is one of your old haunts, isn’t it?

Mark Hutchins: Oh yeah. I love the place. It’s very cozy. I really hadn’t planned on booking any live stuff but Adam Baker (who is a really good musician and runs these showcases) invited me to play. So I’m going to do an acoustic set with my friend Lee Andrews on mandolin and possibly a special guest from Toledo. I hope to remember the words.

EA Poorman: So if someone strolls along on the web and comes across the New Pale Swimmers BC page and their interest is peaked, what would you recommend they start out with? Where should the NPS journey begin?

Mark Hutchins: A pint of hard liquor with a chaser, headphones, and the first one, The New Pale Swimmers. As you move through the catalog, I’d suggest you add opioids. By the time you hit the latest EPs, you’ll “get it.” I’m not condoning drug abuse here, but being in the proper frame of mind is key.


Head on over to https://newpaleswimmers.bandcamp.com/ and check out the entire New Pale Swimmers catalog newly minted in digital form for you to enjoy. Don’t wait too long, though. It won’t be there forever. And make sure to head out to Deer Park Pub on March 24th for Songwriter’s Showcase and check out Mark and friends break out some tunes.

 

Celebrating The Songwriter: Dwane Ferren’s Songwriter’s Night

 

by E.A. Poorman

Back in 2012 Dwane Ferren put out one of my favorite local releases, For Glare & Gun. It was a mix of rusty Americana, jangly alternative, and even touches of gothic pop that showed he was leading the pack with singer/songwriters in the area. Since then, he’s been working hard on a follow-up to that album over at Off The Cuff Sound in Fort Wayne. For a guy that does the 9 to 5 and is happily married with kids, dedicating time for making an album can be challenging. But believe me, it’s worth the wait. I’ve listened to some rough mixes and all I can say is this record is going to be incredible.

Even though the album making is slow going, Ferren isn’t stopping. He’s been out and about playing shows here and there, and in April he’s curating a songwriter’s showcase at the Brass Rail. I caught up with Dwane and we talked about the show, his album, and whatever else came to mind.

E.A. Poorman: So Dwane, it’s good to talk with you. How are things going? What have you been doing?

Dwane Ferren: I’ve been working on the new album for a little over a year now, and I had to take a break from it.

 

E.A. Poorman: A break from it? 

Dwane Ferren: I’ve made a conscious effort to deliver an album that has a different sound and presentation than the two albums before, so I am taking it slow and trying to do it right.

E.A. Poorman: That makes sense. So are you and your band the Sad Bastards getting out and playing shows? Getting the songs road worn?

Dwane Ferren: The Bastards have been playing more shows, so we have been rehearsing a lot and fine tuning our live sound. In the past I have had a rotation of people that would play live shows with me, almost every show had a different line-up. It looks like I have finally narrowed the band down to a solid core of musicians that I am very excited about.

E.A. Poorman: Speaking of playing live, tell me about this upcoming songwriter’s night at the Brass Rail in April? How did this come about?

Dwane Ferren: I always write songs alone. That’s not to say I’m not open to the idea of writing with other people or with a band, but I’ve never struggled to come up with the ideas.  I may or may not like everything that i come up with,  but I know from past experience that writing as a “singer songwriter” is different than writing with a band.  Sometimes you say things in songs even if there’s a small chance of them being true.  Sometimes you say the truth as you saw it, or as someone else did.  Either way, you’re kind of on a tight rope alone.  And that’s how I thrive as a writer.  Creatively speaking, I enjoy that familiar desire, so I wanted to celebrate the singer/songwriters in this town.

E.A. Poorman: Celebrating the singer/songwriter. I like that. So who are you celebrating that night? Who’s sharing the stage with you?

Dwane Ferren: Lexi Pifer is one of the bravest young voices around right now.  She sings through her eyes which is what they used to say about George Jones.  Kevin Hambrick has been one of my favorites in Fort Wayne since the first time I saw him perform in 2000.  Mark Hutchins is hands down one of my favorite songwriters.  Someone once said “Songwriting is a bitch, then it has puppies”.  I kind of feel like that with Mark’s songs.  They are so beautiful, but I know that writing beautiful songs has nothing to do with beauty. I don’t know how he does it.

E.A. Poorman: How did you decide on this group of musicians? A great group, by the way.

Dwane Ferren: The Brass Rail has been kind enough to allow me to do this showcase on a Friday night, so I really want to present the audience with a variety of performances.  I think some will perform alone and some may have a few guest musicians.  I am planning on playing with my band The Sad Bastards.

E.A. Poorman: Could you see this becoming a regular thing? Songwriter’s Night once every month or every other month?

Dwane Ferren: Well I think having THIS show at The Brass Rail was important because every night is “songwriters night” there.  Its pretty much the backbone of the original scene in Fort Wayne, and I can’t thank Corey and John enough for letting us do this show.

E.A. Poorman: Since we’re talking about shows, you’ve got one coming up on March 6th. It’s a fundraiser for your friend and fellow Sad Bastard Felix Moxter. Can you tell me about that one?

Dwane Ferren: If you know Felix then you get it.  If you don’t know him,  there just isn’t a better ambassador for the city of Fort Wayne. He’s a fantastic musician and a close friend of mine.  We are so excited to be a part of this and I URGE any fellow musician to attend and support Felix and Rhonda on this journey.  They are in need of traveling expenses as they adopt their son and 100% of the proceeds will go to the them so they can travel to China.  If anyone would like to help, please attend the show at O’sullivans on Friday March 6th, or you can donate at this web address as well.  http://www.gofundme.com/ek8muc

E.A. Poorman: Let’s talk about the follow up to For Glare & Gun. How’s it coming? Will we see it released in 2015?

Dwane Ferren: It’s a 10 song effort with 9 songs started and 6 of those are completely done.  Just a little tweaking on 3 and one complete song to go.  I’m hoping to mix it by summer and then take it to Chicago to have it mastered at The Boiler Room.  My goal is to have it out by November of this year.

E.A. Poorman: So musically how does it sound?

Dwane Ferren: For Glare & Gun was primarily an “alt-country” album.  With this one I am playing more electric guitar.  Using less “country” sounding instruments.  But we still have some of that fun playfulness that was on tracks like “Elephant Tears”.  I think that this one covers even more ground than FG&G.

E.A. Poorman: Besides the Songrwriter’s Night in April and the upcoming Felix Moxter fundraiser, what you do have planned as far as shows go?

Dwane Ferren: We are playing a new venue in Alexandria called Creative Sanctuary 765 on Saturday March 21st.  I know Ryan Kerr and The Pink Balloon Band have played there recently, and had nothing but good things to say about the place.  I’ve heard we may be playing Rock The Plaza this summer, and I’m waiting on a confirmation date for The Melody Inn in Indianapolis.

E.A. Poorman: Well I wish you the best with the Songwriter’s Night in April. It sounds like a great line-up, and filled with artists that deserve more recognition. If you had narrow that show down to one goal, what would that be?

Dwane Ferren: Singer/Songwriters are sometimes overlooked because they play shows without a band or in an acoustic format.  A full show of acoustic songs is hard for some people to sit through.  But not me.  I think that it’s brave as hell.  That’s why I’m bringing my band.  (laughs)

E.A. Poorman: So the main reason for this show is what?

Dwane Ferren: I just wanted to play a show with my friends.

 

Sounds like a good enough reason to me. Get out and see Dwane Ferren and his friends on April 24th at The Brass Rail. And get out tonight and see Dwane and the Sad Bastards at O’Sullivan’s at 9pm. It’s gonna be a great show and for a great cause. Also, be excited for this new Dwane Ferren album. From what I’ve heard of it, it’s absolutely killer.

 

 

 

 

 

Indie Rock Over Easy: Mark Hutchins and the Breakfast Show

When you think of going out and checking out a rock show what comes to mind?  Getting all dolled up, heading out of the house around 9 or 10pm?  Hitting the bar and grabbing some beers or whatever is your poison and hunkering down at a small table with some friends?  Band starting up around 11pm or later?  If this is your idea of a night out at the bar and checking out local talent you would be correct.  Now, what about checking out great local talent, but instead of a beer or rum and coke in front of you it’s an omelet, wheat toast, hash brown and a cup of coffee?  I know, most of you are having that at Denny’s around 3am after you’ve left the bar, and the only music hitting your ears is the Trace Adkins or any other ‘modern’ country schlub that’s being pumped through the speakers at said Denny’s.  But there is a place where this is possible in daylight hours, hangover not required.

The Glass City Cafe in Toledo, OH has been the sight of the ‘Bluegrass Breakfast’ for sometime now.  Mixing a great breakfast with some of the finest pickin’ this side of the Mason-Dixon Line.  For the past 3 years or so the Glass City Cafe has been center stage to not only an awesome reuben omelet, but what has been dubbed the Bluegrass Breakfast.  The concept was thought up by Toledo native and Old West End Records main man Ben Langlois and it’s simple really: a great breakfast and some great music to accompany that cup of coffee and english muffin.  One of our local musical maestros, Mr. Mark Hutchins, has played the Glass City Cafe on a few occasions and has found the experience pretty amazing.  He’s an Ohio native, but has been living in the Fort Wayne area for years.  He loves the breakfast shows so much that he’d love to bring them to the area he calls home now.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  Right now let’s talk to Mark about his Indie Rock breakfast gigs.

JH:  How does one get involved in the breakfast shows? 

MH:  Back in 2011 I started working with a small label over in Toledo called Old West End Records. Ben, the owner, had been putting on ‘Bluegrass Breakfast’ shows once a month at the Glass City Cafe, and they went over really well. Still do. My album Sleepy Furnace had just been released, so we talked about an acoustic breakfast show to promote it. I think we even billed it as ‘Sleepy Breakfast.’ It went great, and the people who run the place were (and are) fantastic. I get back over there every chance I get. It’s a totally different atmosphere.

JH:  Besides the Glass City Cafe, are there any other venues you do the breakfast shows at?  Any thoughts on bringing these unique shows over to Fort Wayne?

MH:  So far, the GCC is the only place I’ve done breakfast shows. I would LOVE to do something like this over here. You know, I’d love to go get breakfast and see somebody else play too; I haven’t had the opportunity to be on the audience end of one of these shows yet! It’s such a low-key, kind of communal experience. I haven’t approached anybody about it over here, but there are definitely some places that could pull it off, I’m sure.

JH:  These days, would you prefer the breakfast shows or the late night rock shows?

MH:  I like both. The breakfast show atmosphere is obviously more laid back. But, I like to have my cake and eat it too. We’ve been playing some nighttime gigs with one acoustic set followed by a loud electric set. That lets me get both sides of what I like to do into one night. But the breakfast shows are always acoustic. We’ll have different instruments, like guitars, mandolin, bass, even light percussion, but we make sure it never overwhelms the room.

JH:  Could you have seen yourself doing these shows ten years ago?

MH:  Oh, yeah. Twenty years ago, maybe not… I take that back — I would’ve played ANYWHERE 20 years ago. Of course, back then it would have probably been a little bit more of a chore to wake up and jump into the car at 7:30 a.m. to drive to a breakfast show. Those hours suit me much better now.

JH:  Playing for the biscuits and gravy crowd, do you have to be particular about what songs make it onto the set list?  Not that you’re playing gangsta rap or Swans-like dirges, but I’m sure you still have to be somewhat frugal in your song choices.

MH:  I do, partly because it’s truly an all-ages situation. There are retired folks there, little kids, and everybody in-between. I’ve gotten pretty good about mumbling questionable words in the lyrics when kids are around. As far as the material, I can pretty much do what I want. I avoid playing several dirges in a row, obviously. The thing about GCC’s breakfast show crowd in particular is that they’re definitely engaged. They know it’s kind of an “event” and not just breakfast at a restaurant where some guy happens to be sitting up there with a guitar. I’m sure there are some folks there who just want to eat, but fortunately, the layout of the place is kind of “L” shaped, so they can sit outside the line of fire if they want. But, they still tend to applaud anyway.

JH:  When you play the Glass City Cafe breakfast shows, is it usually you solo with a cup of Colombian Supremo, or do you ever have anybody sitting in with you?

MH:  Occasionally, I’ll play strictly solo. But Dan Greunke (guitar/vocals) and Jon Kynard (drums/percussion) both live in Toledo, so they join in if they’re not working that particular day. Plus, Lee Andrews, who lives here and plays mandolin and bass, rides over with me quite a bit and plays. All three of these guys play with me in Vandolah, so it kind of morphs from a solo show into a Vandolah show when they come in. The best shows kind of feel like big house shows: not too slick, relaxed, plenty of time to finish a coffee before it gets cold.

JH:  I’m sure the breakfast shows are kept pretty low key and acoustic, but would there ever be an opportunity for a scrambled egg electric ‘jam’?

MH:  Yeah, I’m sure there could be, but the volume level would definitely have to be kept in check. I don’t think a full drum kit really works in that environment. When we play electric, we end up playing pretty loud whether we intend to or not!

JH:  So when is your next breakfast show at the Glass City Cafe?

MH:  The next one is Saturday, Oct. 13. I’m hoping to do another in November or December.

October 13th.

This coming Saturday you should make plans to take a little morning road trip and head over to the ‘Glass City’ and take in the sights and sounds of beautiful Toledo, OH.  And make sure you get over to the Glass City Cafe a little before 10am.  Get a table, order some great grub and listen to Mark Hutchins play some Vandolah and solo songs, along with his cohorts Dan Greunke and Jon Kynard.  Afterwards, go hit up Culture Clash Records over on Secor Road.

Now, if you’re in a band in Fort Wayne and you’re reading this, here’s what you need to do:  dust off that acoustic and work on some of your tunes that would work well acoustically.  And if you’re a cafe or restaurant owner in Fort Wayne and you’re reading this, here’s what you need to do:  give the breakfast show a shot.  You’d be surprised at what might happen.  Let’s show Toledo we can be cool like them.  Come on CS3.  Come on Dash-In.   You’re missing out on an opportunity here.  Let’s make Calhoun Street THE place to be morning, noon and night.

Indie rock.  Sunnyside up. Over easy.  Anyway you like.

Check Mark Hutchins out here:  http://vandolah.bandcamp.com/

Check out the Glass City Cafe here:   http://glasscitycafe.com/

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Vandolah’s One More Minute e.p.

No better way to start a week than to find out one of the finest local indie rock giants have new music available. Well, what would’ve made it ever better is to not have a sick kid at home. But hey, I can’t have everything, right?

The boy is doing quite well now. No more fever, or vomiting. So now we can concentrate on the excellent new mini-album called One More Minute by Vandolah. It’s been five years since Vandolah has graced us with new sweets for our ears. To The Moon came out in 2007 and was awash in Good Morning Spider eccentricities and Bob Pollard’s knack for concise and to the point songwriting chops. There were shows. There were gigs. Then nothing. Vandolah seemed to have fallen off the musical map. Vandolah’s main guy and ‘center of it’s circle’ Mark Hutchins ventured out on his own to see what the water was like without his bandmates and found out he could stay afloat perfectly fine. 2010s Sleepy Furnace will surely go down in Ft. Wayne music history as one of the finest music statements to ever grace local ears. Filled with Hutchins knack for labyrinthine lyrics, tight, jangly pop/folk and noise excursions ala Wilco and Sparklehorse, it set the benchmark for DIY record making. Following Sleepy Furnace up with 2011s Liar’s Gift, M. Hutchins grabbed some bluegrass players and an americana lean for a laid back, dusty bunch of songs that Richard Buckner or Bill Mallonee would be proud to call their own.

Over the last couple months Hutchins started writing songs that didn’t fit in the stylistic mold of either his last two endeavors, but he knew they needed to be heard. After a month or two of deliberation these songs have been set free to fly where they must in the form of a new Vandolah e.p. called One More Minute. Though unlike previous Vandolah efforts, Mark went the route of the lonely songsmith.  Writing and recording in-between workdays, family vacations and uprisings in the Middle East,  musical seeds were planted. After many mornings and evenings of mixing, re-mixing, re-recording and starting all over, we are presented with a 7 song e.p. of Vandolah goodness. A great mix of Vandolah signature sounds, courtesy of the ghosts of Mark Linkous, Vic Chesnutt and Kurt Vonnegut. From the ‘Beatles meet Sparklehorse’ noise of the title track, to the classic Vando sound of ‘Something Makes Me Lose My Mind’, Mark Hutchins has given the starving ears something to chow down on. I’m not even mentioning all the great stuff in-between.

So sit down, grab a bottle of your favorite poison and listen to Vandolah’s One More Minute. M. Hutchins will be glad to have you over. You can purchase said e.p. for $5 at Vandolah’s Bandcamp page.

Feel free to check it out right here as well.