Singer-Songwriter – Blogger – Guitarist – Content Creator – INTJ
We made it! The Austin airport is kind in that Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay were playing the Saxon stage so we were serenaded by friends as we waited, and then we met Natalie Maines who was walking by. Well, Susan of course knows Natalie. I had never met a Dixie Chick before. Thank you, Austin airport. She was super awesome.
No hitches from start to finish except a really long walk from one gate to another through Heathrow airport. I hadn’t been on a flight where they actually give you stuff like blankets and pillows and food since I was a kid, so British Airways to me is the ultimate in luxury. Also they all have awesome accents and I want them to talk to me the whole flight.
Thanksgiving dinner was this…looks traditional, doesn’t it?
I snapped this photo over the Atlantic when I couldn’t sleep and was flipping back and forth between the map and the Amy Winehouse documentary. That was hard to watch, but gripping nonetheless.
Because this is now basically a travel food blog, here is the “chocolate orange bun” British Airways gave us FOR A SNACK can I just fly their airline as a job thank you.
Here is the sun setting at 3 PM on our flight somewhere between London and Stockholm…closer to Stockholm.
Here I am, a time zone confused sleepless person in the Stockholm airport.
Then after we landed the sun set immediately at around 3:30 and it felt like midnight but really it was about 9 AM in Texas and I was so confused. So no photos because it was dark. We had Swedish pizza for dinner and I slept for 12 hours. More coming…we are in Ludvika which is Sofie Reed’s hometown and we have a show tonight!
Man. Happy Thanksgiving Week! It’s actually here. I haven’t even processed the holiday because my sights have been set on my first trip to Europe (!!), and we leave Wednesday. I am excited to accompany Susan and our friend and Swedish guru Sofie Reed for 20 days of gigs and workshops across the country. We’ll be in Stockholm, Ludvika, Bredsjö, Norrtälje, Karlskoga, Kristinehamn, Åmål, and some places I am sure I left off. Sofie has a great run down of everything on her website!
Not sure why it took me so long to get to Europe…I didn’t do anything in high school that offered a summer trip (the guitar program was surprisingly lacking in funds for such things) and then I moved to Austin and life happened. I am really grateful that this trip is because of music…some great opportunities have come down the pike working with Susan, and this is a lovely way to cap off 2015.
Packing frenzy…I plan to take as little as possible, and it is cold and damp and dark over there. Outerwear is key. I an excited for Swedish coffee, because I read they take their midday coffee hangs very seriously. I think we’ll get along just fine with the Swedes.
Updates as I can grab wifi!
We interrupt this travelogue to inform you of a couple of classes I am teaching through Girl Guitar this coming Winter. I absolutely love this organization and all the people in it. The past couple of sessions of gathering around the guitar on Thursday nights has been a blast, and I hope the wonderful women in the classes have learned things. I certainly learn a lot every class session!
I’ll be teaching a Strum Clinic for the first time and I am, quite frankly, frothing at the mouth to get into it. I promise to clean the froth up before class begins, but really. SIX WEEKS OF STRUMMING!
The class description: “Rhythm guitar is the backbone of all popular music, and this class is going to explore all the various ways guitar players can work on their strumming technique to make their playing more dynamic and interesting. We will look at using different strum patterns and exercises to make a song more powerful, whether it be a cover tune or in your own songwriting. We’ll also learn by dissecting some of the great rhythm parts in popular music. This class is for beginner through advanced players. ”
Boom. I remember the first time I saw a real live performing folk musician in the flesh, and it was Lucy Kaplansky when I was in high school. Her strumming prowess blew me away. I mean, WATCH THIS.
That informed a lot of my guitar technique desires as a youngster. Then I got into Shawn Colvin and Susan Gibson and Patty Griffin and I didn’t look back. A good strum technique will fill a whole room when it’s just you and a guitar. It’ll also prevent you from becoming completely and utterly bored playing along with songs or playing your own. Everyone knows the cliche terrible guitar strumming folkie vibe. We will avoid this.
I’ll also be teaching CAGED technique again – a different way of looking at the whole guitar fretboard that has really helped me know what frets 4 through 12 are doing, since it’s easy to get stuck in first position land. It’s pattern based with theory behind it, but I think it adapts well to most learning styles.
Here’s the place to get all the info on the classes (and more!) at Girl Guitar. This session starts January 14th and goes through the end of February. Email me with questions!
A certain amount of years ago (ok, like 10) when I was in college, I hung out with a group of 4 friends and we called ourselves The Quadrangle. We did most everything together, enough so that we had to coin a term for our clique. We all keep in touch even though we’re all scattered around the country. This past month 3 of us decided to finally take a trip together (we missed having Ben but he was off doing something important like his job), and Beth, Jamie, and I chose NYC as our destination. It was magical.
I travel a lot and I love it, and I have seen a lot of the country thanks to Susan and music and good fortune. It’s been a while since I’ve been somewhere that wasn’t to visit family or that had a gig attached to it, so this was a good chance to not make many plans and wander around. Wander around, we did.
I have decided that if anyone reading this has an apartment along Central Park and would like to invite me over just to look out your windows, I’d be happy to oblige. This is a life goal, seriously. I can’t afford rent in one of these buildings (or you know, a mortgage) but I am a pretty good guest and I won’t stay too long. Just long enough to chat about your life in NYC and look our your windows. So you know, hit me up, locals.
In the meantime, whilst I wait for all the offers to roll in, here’s a few highlights!
We’ll be back, I am sure. Where should we go next?
Happy One Year Release Anniversary of T-Swift’s album 1989! The internet told me so.
It’s a long and winding road to get to where I am today, an unabashedly fervent fan of Taylor Swift. I had the thought for this post after a mildly hectic morning braving the elements of nature here in Texas – this weekend Mother Nature bestowed on us a crap ton of rain. We had inflammatory graphics from forecasters like this one:
It turned out to be more like 6 inches, but I didn’t know that as I was driving to our workshop in San Antonio on Saturday morning. It was early, it was raining a lot, I am a New Mexican so we are used to like 6 inches of rain a YEAR, not in a day. I’m not a fan of 1) hydroplaning 2) not seeing the car in front of me or 3) “fine mist” as a thing in general, so I was in driver’s hell on I-35. It turned out well, but having low self-esteem over driving in rain caused thoughts like:
“If I hit this barricade right now, the last song I will have ever heard will be “Wonderland” by Taylor Swift.”
“I AM OKAY WITH THE FACT THAT THE LAST SONG I EVER HEAR IS A TAYLOR SWIFT SONG.”
and “Well this got morbid real fast.”
Everything was fine, I lived to blog another day, obviously. But that thought amused me. I’ve had a T-Swift mix in my car for the last few weeks (say hello to my Mustang with no aux port…it’s all mix CDs 90’s style in here with titles like “September” and “Rawk” and “Autummmmn” – ugh). I have always considered myself a music snob, and a sentimental one at that. This explains my thought process leading to “What will be the last song I hear before I die?” Since I was old enough to make note (so let’s say…13), I have always made sure that the first song I play every new year is a Mary Chapin Carpenter song. I feel like it gives me good mojo as a writer and a human…I have to set the year off right. When I’m on a plane I carefully craft the most emo playlist I can make with songs about leaving and big cities and big dreams so I can daydream from the window seat. It’s how I roll.
I latched on to great songwriters at an early age…great by my standards but also by general consensus in music criticism standards. The first song I learned to play on guitar at age 11 was “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” by the aforementioned Mary Chapin, so I was well versed in things like divorce and middle aged women working in the typing pool. I looked up the word “Shibboleth” at age 12 because it’s in a Shawn Colvin song. I was covering Lucy Kaplansky songs at high school guitar recitals. I had high standards and no time for the 2000’s pop bubble of Britney and NSYNC. I was a connoisseur.
I was a dismissive folk fan with no time for teenagers and their feelings. Then I did stuff like move to Austin and get more serious about my seriousness. This is how I missed the Taylor Swift boat.
Round about 2012, Taylor released her album Red, which was a bit of a testing-the-waters “I’m still country but there’s some pop stuff on here guys DON’T PANIC” album. The opening track “State of Grace” has some fantastic U2 type guitar on it, which is the thing that made my ears perk up and go, “I can listen to this.” Of course the ubiquitous singles “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together” had permeated America’s brain by then, and I found myself liking pop music more (I was deep into Gaga) and liking Taylor. Casually. You know, if it’s on, I’ll listen to it.
Fast forward to 2014 and I am really just a pop music evangelist at this point. My playlists feature more Rihanna and Kesha than Tift Merritt at times, and while I have never forsaken the folk, sometimes I just want a smart lyric delivered to me with a wall of synth behind it, ok? Ok. Taylor announces her first “THIS IS A POP ALBUM DEALWITHIT” pop album…1989. I get it the day it comes out. It proceeds to take the world by storm. It proceeds to take my playlists by storm. All of the storms are happening here.
The album is great. I can play it all the way through and NOT SKIP ANYTHING (truly a feat for me). Imogen Heap produced a song called Clean that is absolutely my favorite. You can read about their studio session here on Imogen’s blog and it’s worth it.
Ms. Swift’s album launch was executed perfectly with laser-like focus but with heart. Those things CAN go together, and 1989‘s press tornado proved it. I even wrote a blog post about all the things her social media got right. We were barraged all year with one good story after another from seemingly all angles. Taylor starts a conversation about streaming music rights and Spotify. Taylor is the reason GoFundMe’s donation cap goes up. She writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about the future of music. It was a barrage of “Go Taylor!” and astoundingly, even the deniers couldn’t deny this 24-year-old was a different breed of pop star.
I was happy in my 1989 bubble with occasional forays back to Red, but as the year has passed the fangirling has only grown. Weirdly, Ryan Adams decided to cover 1989 in its entirety (weird), an album less than a year old (weird), and he did a great job (expected) and so we had the confluence of both versions of 1989 being on the charts at the same time (weird). Suddenly, in case we needed it (and maybe I did), we had a really respected, established alt-folk-whatever artist validate this album.
I wish I was cooler and say it didn’t affect me at all, but quotes from Ryan like “Those songs are fragile and vulnerable at their core. They’re constructed from such an honest place. Those are the kind of songs…I don’t think they’re overshares. But they’re all completely giving, to the point that they move people to tears,” – quotes like that made me feel a little smug. Like my folk snobbery and my pop love could co-exist (thanks, Ryan).
Lately Taylor gives interviews where she says stuff like “When other kids were watching normal shows, I’d watch Behind the Music. And I would see these bands that were doing so well, and I’d wonder what went wrong. I thought about this a lot. And what I established in my brain was that a lack of self-awareness was always the downfall. That was always the catalyst for the loss of relevance and the loss of ambition and the loss of great art. So self-awareness has been such a huge part of what I try to achieve on a daily basis. It’s less about reputation management and strategy and vanity than it is about trying to desperately preserve self-awareness, since that seems to be the first thing to go out the door when people find success.” I believe it, and I appreciate that she can verbalize these thoughts. It knocks the tired media frenzy of “she dates to write new songs about breakups” narrative that ruled her for a while. Not only is 1989 great music, but it allowed her to create an almost unheard of shift in PR narrative for a super famous musician.
So lately, it’s off to the races with my Swift studies, and dang. Her body of work as a songwriter is really impressive. Rewind past Red and you have Speak Now, a more firmly country album but with hints of the pop sensibility busting through. Songs like “Mine” and “Sparks Fly” and “Back to December” and “Enchanted” and…well, yeah, it’s just good.
Rewind past THAT and we are on Fearless, an album Taylor made when she was all of 20 years old. As I was Youtubing around (like you do), I found this interview piece about Colbie Callait singing on the track they wrote together called “Breathe,” and you really do get a sense for how poised and visionary Taylor is in the studio. She’s not only a great writer, she’s a full on producer too. Watch this video and try and argue she’s anything but involved in every aspect of her art. The “machine” behind her work is…her own brain.
I’m still rewinding…truth be told I haven’t gone back to the very first album yet but at this point I trust it’s full of smart lyrics by a really down-to-earth and self-aware 17 year old…a songwriting savant who has managed to tap a vein of relevancy not just once like many artists are lucky to do, but consistently over a 9 year career.
Quotes like this are why I imagine I will remain a Swiftie for the long haul: “You can be accidentally successful for three or four years. Accidents happen. But careers take hard work.” It’s proven when you watch her trajectory…in the fact that she has gotten so much better. Nothing irks me more than when a fan of someone will say, “Wow, you’re so much better than you were when I saw you 5 years ago.” Yeah. Because when do you something all the time, you get better at it, and I’m not sure I know of any musician who popped out of the womb an amazing artist. Some have to get better while being watched on live Grammy broadcasts and the like; Taylor had the task of maturing in the really bright light of pop culture criticism. She’s like the Chelsea Clinton of music…everyone’s kind of shocked she made it through the awkward teenage years of her career but of COURSE she made it through, and now it’s all grace and poise from here on out.
I’m grateful for 1989 and Taylor for helping me to embracing a genre of music I now love, and for making me shake loose some of those dismissive predilections that ultimately serve to keep art out of my life rather than let it in by any means necessary. If it’s good, if it “gets” you…listen to it. I’m off to spin Shake It Off again.
Happy 1989-iversary, T-Swift.
As i was sitting in my friend Norma’s apartment in Brooklyn yesterday, packing my bags to fly back to Austin after an incredible week with friends in New York, I scrolled Facebook as I habitually do to see what’s happening. I saw a photo of John Jennings that Mary Chapin Carpenter had posted along with a poem and I knew immediately that meant he had lost his 18 month battle with cancer.
I kept packing, we had a car to the airport, and our driver talked non-stop for 40 minutes about his life in New York after immigrating from Italy 47 years ago. It was a great ride. I said goodbye to Jamie, my partner in crime for the week, and made it through security without much delay. I finally found a grey corner with a window near gate B10 at LaGuardia and it was then the tears started coming. The gravity of the impact JJ had on my life is something I can’t totally unpack without a lot of reminiscing, but his influence has been so obvious. He was one of my very first musical mentors.
When I was an 11 year old kid starting guitar lessons, all I knew was that I wanted to play Mary Chapin Carpenter songs. It was 1994, and Stones in the Road had just come out. I played that album to death, and I learned every single song on it. As I saw her perform on TV more and more, you could not help but notice John’s guitar work. It was a bedrock of her sound and they clearly had an amazing partnership. Read the liner notes on her albums and you see he’s responsible for producing a lot of her iconic catalog, not to mention all the other artists he’s worked with over the years…not to mention his own amazing solo catalog. I met him for the first time when I was 16 at a show in Santa Fe, and I brought the Martin Backpacker guitar I had bought with my allowance money because he played one on MCC’s PBS special and made it look so dang cool (see the video up there). He signed it and was his gracious self. Every time I saw him after that, popping up in random cities for shows or at Folk Alliance in Memphis, he always made time to chat. He was that kind of guy.
I cried off and on all the way from New York to Chicago to Austin. Airports are great places to ponder arrivals and departures, and the people waiting on them. I’m not the judge of fairness (though I often wish I could be for a day), but it seems like JJ’s departure came too soon. I’m grateful for the legacy he left and I’m going to carry on what I can in my own way.
In 1997 when I was 15, I wrote him a fan girl email and asked him about playing guitar. Here’s part of what he wrote back:
“you’re about the age i was when i began playing, and it took me about 10 or 15 years to get to the point where i could play fairly quickly and have it make any sense at all. i just turned 44, and have spent the last ten years trying to slow down my playing. it seems to me that, whatever you do, you should be deliberate about it. that’s the key to really good playing. there have been many wonderful players that were not all that fast, but made wonderful music.”
That sums up his mastery and his kindness in a nutshell.
“Whatever you do, you should be deliberate about it.”
Thank you for everything, JJ.
Well, it’s not Fall in Texas yet because it’s still NINETY DEGREES (seriously, I am now on some sort of countdown plan to live in a place with Real Fall, except I will return to Texas to avoid Real Winter).
It’s been busy since we got back from tour, which…for some reason I thought it’d be kind of calm and a nice time to settle back into routine, except No. But that’s quite all right because busy is good, as they say (unless you’re in one of those movies where you’re the character that’s a workaholic and life passes you by and you realize your kids hate you and you quit your job and find yourself but that’s not what we’re dealing with here). Anyway.
I also got to open for the fabulous Elizabeth Wills in Dallas at Poor David’s Pub, which is known for having the best sound on the planet. E-Dub was amazing and we celebrated with a Dallas view from a rooftop.
MY friend Chad had to be in Texas for work, but I kidnapped him and we got to see some music at Gruene Hall (some fine folks named Chris and Adam Carroll and SusanG!). Chad also got to see a lot of I-35. Welcome to Texas, we have orange barrels.
I’m having a blast teaching at Girl Guitar this semester…a little CAGED Guitar Theory and Songwriting. They always have classes starting and I’ll be back there in the new year if I get my way – they’re too cool to stay away from!
Next up – a trip up to New York City to play tourist with my college buddies. I am sure that will warrant a blog post and I won’t wait 2 months to post it. Onward!
Long time no blog again! Like…for all of August. We’ve been having a great tour across the Northwest and are in the last week of it all – winding it down in New Mexico. We’ve had great gigs and hung out with some great people!
And lots happening in the Fall…but for now, Instagram will have to do for a tour diary!
I’m happy to say I’ll be back for my second round of teaching with Girl Guitar in Austin. I taught songwriting this Spring and had the best time and met the best people. If you’re in Central Texas and you fall under the scope of “Girl with Guitar”…I’d love to see your face in class. Enrollment is limited. We’ll start September 17th and go through October with 6 week courses.
The CAGED theory is a way of revealing patterns of notes on the fretboard, therefore helping you to remember where all the notes are positioned. This is immensely helpful for finding new ways to play chords, find arpeggios, or being able to pick out a quick lead part in any key. This class will make you popular at parties and folk festivals, among other health benefits. CAGED Lead and Theory is taught by Jana Pochop.
*Please note: CAGED Lead class does not participate in the Girl Guitar Showcase.*
Cost for First-Timers: $160 (includes t-shirt)
Girl Guitar Alum: $135
*Get a friend to sign up and get $25 off!*
*Please note: Class fees are non-refundable and non-transferable. To sign up please email Mandy@GirlGuitarAustin.com*
CAGED Lead with Jana- Thursdays, September 17th, 7-8pm
This class is designed to help you draw inspiration from your own life and use that inspiration to find your unique voice as a songwriter. You’ll learn how to get motivated to write, how to get all those wonderful words out of your head and onto paper, and how to arrange them into beautiful songs that could not have been written by anyone else but the one and only YOU! Songwriting is taught by Mandy Rowden, Jana Pochop, Cass Brostad or Jane Gillman.
Cost for First-Timers: $160 (Includes t-shirt)
Girl Guitar Alum: $135
*Get a friend to sign up and get $25 off!*
*Please note: Class fees are non-refundable and non-transferable. To sign up please email Mandy@GirlGuitarAustin.com*
Songwriting with Jana-Thursdays, September 17th, 8:15-9:15 (No class October 15th)