Catch A Tiger

22 Oct
2019

Jonatha Brooke, Erin Ivey, and meeeeeeee. (Photo by Blue Rock)

You never know what’ll happen with a song…as I wrote earlier, I spontaneously wrote a song with Erin Ivey while we were both attending Jonatha Brooke‘s workshop at Blue Rock this summer. When I say spontaneously, I mean it. We went from meeting, to hearing Mabel Stark’s story, to writing on the porch in less than 8 hours. Total joy. We recorded it on the 3rd morning of the workshop…pretty quick turnaround!

We decided to forward the recording we made at the workshop to Richard Sandomir, the author of Mabel’s obituary, the gorgeous piece of writing that set it all off. He sent a nice note back, and forwarded it to the head of the Overlooked series at the New York Times, who asked if they could share it.

Thankfully Erin is quick on her feet and decided that we couldn’t just have them linking to the Dropbox file we had, so she set up this landing page at www.thetigersong.com telling about Mabel, the story of writing the song, and the chance to download it if you want it! I made a lyric video so you can sing along if you like. Mabel would dig it if you did, I think.

Write that song, kids! And meet new people to write with…cool things happen. (And check out all the great stuff they do at Blue Rock Artist Ranch!)

MUNA + Maggie

21 Oct
2019

For someone who waited basically since the start of summer for summer to be over, I am sure behind on updating about any of it. The truth is it was 90 degrees on Sunday, October 20th, so summer really had a hard time leaving us. Maybe she didn’t know where to go. Part of me hopes she’s ok, part of me knows she’ll return sooner than she should. For now…yay hoodie weather.

Let’s just talk about a couple of shows I’ve seen lately…because seeing live music is a must in these weird times. It helps. As I have mentioned before, I especially love seeing pretty loud, pretty full-of-people, pretty colorful pop shows. This is weird because normally I don’t go for loud OR full of people. But…

MUNA played in Dallas a few weeks ago and it felt like destiny to FINALLY see my favorite band in person. They also played in Austin, but I had a Threadgill’s show on the same night, so off to Dallas on a Tuesday night it was. Going to a show by yourself is sort of weird if you are not used to it, mostly in the time between getting in the door and the show starting. But there were other solo MUNA fans there and by the time Chelsea Jade started, it didn’t matter because we all got absorbed into the world of glorious electro-pop and joy.

Chelsea Jade – awesome.

MUNA took the stage with a roar and never once stopped flooding the Deep Ellum Art Company room with energy and love. I’ve been a fan since MUNA’s brilliant About U debut, but the new album, MUNA Saves the World, has quickly become a staple. I highly recommend both. (Find all the streaming / video links here).

I am still on the MUNA high…which lead nicely into seeing Maggie Rogers this weekend at ACL Live in Austin. I went with my ride or die concert buddy, Melinda Ann, who is always a willing participant in an adventure though usually it’s a Taylor Swift show. Since T-Swift isn’t touring right now, we were looking for a good heartfelt pop fix. Maggie delivered in spades.

I know I beat the idea to a pulp on here sometimes, but a reminder…no matter what it is, find the thing that brings you crazy amounts of joy and go to it. It’s not even self care at this point, it’s self preservation. Now go have fun.

Good Midsummer to you all. It’s still, what it seems like, the interminable middle of summer here. I even left for 2 weeks and it was pretty summery in New Mexico and Colorado, but at least it would get to the 60s at night. Here in Texas it’s always around 80 and upwards into the 100s. And now I am one of those blogs that talks about the weather.

What kills the summer doldrums? Writing songs! I’ve had the good fortune of collaborating with some great folks lately, and my friend Jeff Plankenhorn (see the A!O!C!) post below has taken another co-write and made it into a real thing! Like a really real song you can stream and download and buy:

Plank and Scrappy Jud Newcomb and I wrote this in Austin early this summer…Plank’s idea was the re-examine the meaning of the term “the bottom line.” We’re use it to think about profits and markets and making money, but there’s a real bottom line as humans and a lot of us in our society live on it, or are in danger of hitting it. We just wanted write ourselves a reminder to look around and help out when we can.

You can stream it on Spotify and Apple Music and all that goodness. Check out Plank’s website here and join his Patreon for extra good juju!

Being a Fan

22 Jul
2019

Happy mid-summer (not to be confused with that weird movie that’s out about people going to a festival and getting murdered or something I don’t know…that’s called Midsommar).

I feel like I have gotten to be a fan of things a lot this month, which is one of my favorite pastimes, so I’m here to share.

I saw my very favorite, Mary Chapin Carpenter, at Red Rocks in Denver, CO last weekend. It had been a whole…9 months?..since I had seen an MCC show and I was FEELING THE DROUGHT. Also, I had never seen her with a symphony before, so that was also a must-do. Her beautiful record, Songs from the Movie, puts a spin on her songs that turn them into something altogether stunning different while remaining familiar. I love it. Red Rocks was a beautiful venue that allowed me to get in all of my Fitbit steps for the day just by getting to my seat, and the rain stopped right when the symphony started tuning up.

My musical tourist cohort Heidi came too, as did my favorite Coloradoan niece, Heather (she is my only niece who lives in Colorado, this is not an inflammatory statement). I am big fans of them, too! Yes, we picnicked from the trunk of my Mustang. I’d call it classy but…maybe more just…functional.

Earlier in the month I had the honor of playing a set at the Black Rose Acoustic Society in Colorado Springs…a beautiful example of a concert series that honors the songwriter.

I also spent over a week in New Mexico, and got to indulge in some of my favorite things there, like hanging out with my mom, my New Mexican buddies, and lots of adobe. Georgia O’Keeffe, too. The O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe is a must see if you are within….1000 miles.

Thankfully my mom is very plugged in to the various streaming platforms, because T-Swift did a concert that was only available on Amazon Prime streaming, which I don’t have at home. I reverently waited through 2 hours of opening acts and Prime commercials to see Taylor live from NYC, and it was cool in a nostalgic way because it reminded me of the time we saw her live in a smallish venue in Houston before the Super Bowl. Thanks, giant corporate sponsors. PSA: Taylor’s Lover comes out on August 23rd!

Fall looks busy already…and I’m suddenly working on two new albums. Things come at ya fast (unless you’re waiting for the new TS album…ok I’ll stop).

Cheers to summer, cheers to being a fan.

June offered a couple of unique opportunities to dive into some deep learning with some amazing folks.

First up, Imogen Heap came to town. It’s been 10 years or so since I’ve seen her perform – she played in Austin a couple of times at La Zona Rosa (RIP to that venue), and then spent a lot of time doing cool stuff like inventing the Mi.Mu Gloves and producing for Taylor Swift and writing music for Harry Potter. You know, normal stuff.

I’m on the fan email list, and last year they sent us all a note and said:

  • Imogen is touring the US in 2019
  • We don’t know where or when
  • Wanna buy a ticket?

Of course I was in. They planned the tour based on a lot of things, I am sure, but took into account all our location requests. I would have traveled for it but luckily Austin was on the list. There was also a workshop about Imogen’s Creative Passport Project, and that was really cool to attend. More about that soon…they’re doing good things with it.

The performance was, of course, insanely good. Aside from writing with Taylor, Ariana Grande is also a big Imogen fan and covered one of her songs on her latest album. It’s cool to see the pop stars of today respecting a real pioneer in self-produced electronic music.

Then it was off to a workshop with Jonantha Brooke at Blue Rock Studios in Wimberley. What a gorgeous place for a workshop. Jonatha is like a pop folk icon for the ages, so it was a no brainer for me to wrangle a way to attend. I think every so often it’s good to be a student, and the opportunity to study songwriting with someone of her stature was incredible.

Erin Ivey (a true badass) was also there and we were so inspired by Jonatha reading this obituary of Mabel Stark, tiger trainer, that we wrote a song for Mabel right there and then on the porch in the evenings after the workshop. Jonatha and Billy, fearless leaders they are, asked us to record it on Sunday morning. That was the fastest inception-to-recording of a song I have ever experienced, and I am proud of the result! It’ll show up somewhere for public consumption soon, I am sure.

I’d say it was hard to go back to real life after these experiences, but they are actually…really real life. Seek out cool stuff and it’ll seek you, too.

A!O!C!

12 Jun
2019

Some things have to stew for a long time and then they come to fruition at an almost blindingly fast speed.

I love Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newest (and youngest) member of the House of Representatives, from the 14th district of New York. She’s a breath of fresh air in a stale Congress, and against everyone’s bets that she’s too young or inexperienced to do anything valuable, she’s been consistently good at challenging the norms and trying to affect real positive change. Check out this clip of her asking why tax payers pay so much money for a “non-vehicular clutch disc” when…you know…we shouldn’t.

A year ago she released this great campaign video. Her day job was bartending in NYC at the time. She won the election. She hasn’t stopped working since, and thanks to her social media prowess, she’s taken us along with her on the journey.

Visiting her office on Capitol Hill in January was a highlight. We were there to discuss improving the healthcare system…and while she was not present, her staff spent quite a bit of time with our group. When we were about to leave, they held up a phone for all of us, because AOC had sent us a video from the car on her way to her event in NYC that day. She’s that in touch and wanted to give us a message of thanks for being involved, while we were there. Pretty on top of that response time, I’d say.

So, the other week when Jeff Plankenhorn (who is a master at about a million things but listen to this song right here) asked me if I wanted to write a song (YESSS) and what we should write about…I threw out the idea of an AOC tribute because…what better way to tell someone they’re awesome than to write them a song? I was trying to couch it in a Dylan/Baez metaphorical thing…maybe not mention Rep. O-C but allude to her awesomeness. You know, like call her a phoenix or a lion or something majestic but make it all poetic and stuff.

Plank, to his fearless credit, said…let’s do a folk-punk song…and let’s yell “A! O! C!” for the chorus real loud and BAM! Off we went. I was at home and Plank was navigating the Vancouver airport while we texted back and forth with ideas. He sent me a hummed riff from the fish and chips stand line and I made a voice memo with the guitar part. Before we knew it, we had a mostly formed song in a few hours, and we tweaked it via Google doc over the following days.

Plank was on his way back to Texas to play a string of shows, one of them being the main stage at Kerrville Folk Festival. He suggested we debut the song there, which was an enthusiastic “YES!” from me followed by lyrics cramming and scrawling some line prompts on my arm. We had a blast, and had folks in the audience yelling “AOC!” in our direction on the festival grounds afterwards. My friend Christal got the debut on “tape”:

We got to play it one more time at The Resentments Sunday at the Saxon…a true honor because those guys are cream of the CROP.

All of this in a span of 2 weeks…pretty cool. Most of the time I take forever to write a song and even longer to get it out there. Many thanks to Plank for his willingness to run with the idea from spark to completion and then awesome opportunities to play it live!

More of that, and more A!O!C!

I was on a plane this weekend. I love flying, partially because it is a miracle of modern science and I never get tired of cloud shadows out the window, and partially because it is one of the few spaces where I feel inspired (because of said miracles of science and the view) and also am totally shut off from the internet for a few hours.

This is not some grandiose saintly choice on my part. I have tried, oh I have tried, to milk my $8’s worth of wifi on flights before, but mostly it never loads and I feel frustrated and sad about losing the $8, so I have learned to airplane mode my devices and be with myself on a plane.

The terrifying part, though, is that I’ll still try to open apps on my phone that have no chance of being useful at all at cruising altitude. My mind will wander to something I need to do, triggering anxiety, which makes me want to open Twitter to scroll for a second’s distraction. The phone unlock and click Twitter motion is so engrained I could do it in the dark upside down on fire. It’s a terrible habit, and it’s magnified when I am 1000% unable to scratch the anxiety balm itch flying over the Permian Basin full of cloud shadows.

Now, I know Twitter isn’t a balm AT ALL, so strike 49 against me right there. Between the 6 email inboxes on my phone, my text messages, my Facebook Messenger app, the 10ish Facebook pages I manage and THEIR inboxes, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever else I decide to torture myself with…it’s hard to get a moment’s peace anymore.

I used to think I was a digital pioneer, back in the Wild West days of the early 2000’s. I was “lucky” to come of digital age in college, to have high-speed internet in the dorms and the wherewithal to sign up for everything that came along. Facebook started when I was in college. I uploaded my first Youtube video in college. Twitter started the year after I graduated and I have had an account ever since. It was my job to be on the forefront of these apps and sites because what if one of them would take off and be the cause of launching every musician on it to worldwide fame and unending fortune? Obviously that was the track, and we all just had to be paying attention and stay ahead.

Fast forward to now, and well…our brains are rotting, I think. Mine is. Attention spans are demonstrably shorter. We are constantly in touch without having real conversations. We are lonelier than we ever have been while having access to most every person we know and every thought recorded by humans. That’s weird, isn’t it?

It stifles creativity, too, while preaching constant creation. How many long form essays or songs or videos have never gotten made because we put just enough creative attention into a Facebook post or an Instastory? All content for the machine instead of ourselves.

All of this mounting frustration at a thing that is widely accepted and embraced by our culture and also at this point expected (everyone basically needs replies to text messages instantaneously which is, by historical standards of communication up until about 2006, INSANE) has lead me to a couple of books about the issue and what to do about it, which is how I found myself on a plane scribbling notes in a real notebook and daydreaming about being a better, more productive, less stressed person.

One book, without giving the name, sort of came off as a luddite griping about “kids these days.” Which is misleading because digital excess has infiltrated every age group at this point, and in my non-scientific research, the older generations have NO ROOM TO TALK HERE. Anyway.

The book I think I like best is the very insightful without being judgey Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. None of the content is really mind-blowingly new information but to see it all laid out, from some history of how this digital overload crept into our lives to how tech companies fight for our attention and take advantage of our core social needs and values to do so…seems useful.

The concept of “solitude deprivation” stuck out to me. Up until even the 1990’s, solitude was not exactly hard to find…solitude being defined as the ability to be alone with your thoughts, not necessarily running away to the woods alone. Standing on a street corner in 1980…you heard traffic, you heard environmental noise, but you were probably there with your thoughts. Then the dawn of the Walkman to the iPod to our cell phones with streaming music and podcasts and whatnot…now we never ever have to be alone with our thoughts at any place or time. Sounds cool! Until it’s not, and we’re all full of input and incapable of putting in deep focus or work anymore.

There’s a group Newport mentions in his book that call themselves the “attention resistance.” I like that name. I have unknowingly already been doing some of the things they advise. I removed almost all notifications on my phone and keep it on silent all the time in hopes to keep it from being a slot machine that draws my attention away from something nearly every millisecond. Various other options include a 30 day detox from social media (sounds nice but I work with the stuff so I can’t put it away like that) and throwing your phone in a lake (just kidding that’s not in the book).

All this to say…I don’t know the answer but I feel at war with my own mind and my own basic needs for attention and approval. A “Like” is such an easy way to give attention and receive it, but it’s empty and hollow in the long run. A constant quest for likes will kill deep work and thought and connection.

So what am I doing about it? Good question…I just read the book, so I haven’t really made a plan yet. I AM writing this long form blog post, though…which feels like a step. I am going to try to make Facebook useful for the tool it is (telling nice people who want to know what I am up to and where the gigs are) but it feels like a betrayal to type at you this hard about these things and then ask that you go follow me on Facebook, doesn’t it? So the great balancing act continues…continue using the tools we have to connect ourselves to each other without losing the cool parts about why we want to connect in the first place.

And onward we go, into the brave new world.

“Reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays.” ― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

I have been sitting with the knowledge of a long term dream of mine come true for a few weeks now.

It’s a bit of a weird, specific type of dream, in a niche part of the already niche-d out world we all inhabit. The music business is full of little corners of opportunity, those corners sitting right next to dead ends and wrong ways and all the stuff that keeps musicians wondering, “What are we even doing?” when we have coffee together for moral support and inevitably sigh and make a pact to keep doing “it,” whatever “it” is.

I am a long time purveyor of acoustic singer-songwriter type songs. I have done it since high school, and I have written with my folk writing heroes on my shoulder since way back then. I value that education, hours spent absorbing and dissecting some of the world’s greatest songwriters.

When my tastes shifted in my late-20’s to OHMIGOD POP MUSIC…I kept those worlds a little separate. Play acoustic guitar, keep erudite folk tastes, listen to pop music in the car. Taylor Swift’s Red album (her country-folk-pop hybrid project) was really one of the first to merge the two worlds for me, and I realized a pop song’s heart is in the melody and the emotion, not necessarily the amount of bass and synth added onto it. (But bass and synth are important, don’t get me wrong). I kept listening to Gaga and Taylor and Betty Who and Imogen Heap and Carly Rae Jepsen and I of course kept writing songs. Sure enough, over the months and years, the melodies coming from my head and out of my mouth got more pop-oriented. Verse structures changed a little (after a lot of studying…it is so hard to break out of the rule of 4 lines everywhere in folk music).

While Rihanna would not walk in and yell “THAT IS A HIT!” (I mean, maybe she would I don’t know Rihanna)…my sound changed because I was listening to what I loved…and through song osmosis (songmosis), it bled into my work.

In person and on the social medias, my pop obsessions were met with some support, mostly general amusement, and some occasional comments in the “why do you listen to that sh*t” vein. Comments which, Dear Reader, if I had as thick of skin as I wish I had, would bounce right off. My thin skinned pleaser self sometimes had a hard time embracing loving something so much and having the music-centered folk around me dismiss it, or actively diss it. Then my friends would ask why I cared so much about what they thought anyway, which made me care MORE. Kind of hard to really make free art when you’re thinking about that. I’ve gotten better at doing my thing over the years, and it bothers me less, most of the time…usually.

Writing a folk-pop melody on guitar and transferring that to a recording…that’s a whole other big long process. One I initially thought was unobtainable. I didn’t really know someone interested in making that music with me, and I was weirdly too scared/intimidated to ask around about it. Enter fate and Mark Addison, a great producer with a fantastic pop ear and the synths to match. We got to work.

We put out the onetwothreescream EP last July – my songs, his awesome pop production, both our brains working together for the pure joy of it. I did walk into this project telling Mark that one of my goals was to find out more about sync licensing, and to make something that we thought was licenseable. We did that, while never giving up the integrity of the lyrics or the spark of inspiration…we went with the flow, and the flow turned out pretty great, I think. And…(I think this fact is very important), when I walked into the studio one day early on in our process, Mark had pulled up Taylor Swift’s reputation album and was making sure what we ended up with compared sonically from mix to master. That was a big giant YES moment for me, because it’s always good to look to a gold standard when you’re in the studio zone, and that was my current gold standard.

When Lit came out, I spent several days parked on the couch sending out press release emails to music bloggers and whatnot. We didn’t have a promo budget, but I had time and lots of email addresses in a spreadsheet. I sent things everywhere. We heard back from a few. Such is how the whole thing goes when you are your own publicist.

Getting a song into a movie, as has been my goal forever? I had no idea where to turn. There are websites you can submit things to, but in this wild west of internet+music, it’s hard to tell who is trying to scam you and, most likely, take your submission money $30 at a time. Sometimes it’s legit, sometimes it’s not. (Usually it’s not).

Our summer pop EP met fall and winter, and other projects happened and life went on, and that weird film+TV licensing thing kept coming up in conversations but no answers were ever really found. There are gatekeepers, a lot of “who you know,” and a lot of “maybe you should move to L.A.” which I mean…I would and maybe I will one day.

Queue an email a couple weeks ago from a sync licensing company run by a real person in a real office, with a really cool reel of film, TV, and ad placements. He liked onetwothreescream. Would we be interested in having our music in his pitch library?

YES.

I mean, after some googling and a contract, YES.

How did he find us? From a review on one of those blogs we submitted the EP to last summer…9 months ago. The most random thing, and then not random at all. We made music with strong intentions. We sent it out into the world. Someone heard it. Here we are.

Can I answer the “how do you get our music licensed?” question now? Heck no. And while, for the purposes of optimistic thinking and laws of attraction, let’s say onetwothreescream will end up on something somewhere due to this new opportunity, nothing has happened yet aside from there being a little more possibility of something happening. Welcome to the music business. (Welcome to life?)

I wish I had a more concrete lesson here, because I like to share lessons. That is a really meandering path I just described in this really meandering essay.

I am just really grateful. Grateful to Mark for taking this project on with me. Grateful to the blog that wrote about us. Grateful for the real life validation from someone outside our circle that hey, we made a good sounding thing in line with our goals. Grateful to Taylor Swift for being an example of morphing your sound and going after your true self in your art. Grateful to my heart for beating so loud when I hear something that moves me.

I’m learning to do/make/write/follow/be what I love…and as for the rest of the trappings of all this stuff…shake it off.

Kickstarter: SUCCESS

20 Feb
2019

My people, we did it. Thank you thank you from the bottom of what was once my cold, dark heart and is now a blossoming. flourishing rainbow heart sprouting unicorns from my chest. Thank you.

In 30 days, we raised $16,829 from 253 backers.

$16,829!!!

I am astounded. We finished this whole thing up on Valentine’s Day, and I took a nap. Then I drove to Corpus Christi for the fantastic Corpus Christi Songwriters’ Festival and spent all weekend hanging out with cool songwriters.

I think the relief hit me yesterday, and I just kind of sat there staring into space for a minute or 30 and appreciating it all. Today, it was back to work. Emailing producer Dan about some scheduling stuff so we can actually get on in there and MAKE A RECORD. Setting up Facebook events for the tour that Shawnee Kilgore and I am going on in March to West Texas and New Mexico. Booking more summer stuff! It’s all exciting and very, very cool.

Actual face upon goal being met last week:

I can feel a hibernation mode coming on, so that songs may be polished and heck, even written. Now is not the time to stop!

Thank you for your belief in me…we’re going to make something cool.

We’re one week into the Kickstarter campaign for my new album and amazingly…almost at 60% funded! The love and help and graciousness of the people around me has been really amazing.

There’s a lot more to tell but I’ll trickle that out over a few blog posts. I need some coffee because I have some thank you emails to write!

Here’s the Kickstarter link again!

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