I was in such a flurry to get the album done and get out of town on time, I haven’t had a minute to reflect on the process and give thanks where they are due. Scrambling out of the house, I took my ever-more beloved drive on highway 50 through NV and UT, jumping on I 70 in CO, and I finally had a chance to breathe. Now nestled in Rist Canyon, up the hill from Fort Collins, I’m watching the aspen leaves flutter in the cold morning breeze set against hills of pines and a moody sky. There are two kittens exploring my guitars by the wood burning stove, prayer flags happily hanging.
I had some unexpected snafus come up at the most inconvenient time in the album-birthing process, and I am still fairly rattled. But – I got to see Mary Gauthier play last night at Avo’s in Fort Collins, and I’m starting to remember why I do this song thing in the first place. Making an album with all your guts spilled in it can feel like taking a picture of your butt and posting it on the internet.. and I’m used to there being two butts in the photo at least. It was a lot harder emotionally than I expected, all technical aspects aside.
Speaking of technical aspects – I want to give a HUGE thank you to Michael Connolly at Empty Sea Studios, who’s mind-boggling instrumentalist skills really brought out the character in the songs and made them come alive – not to mention the mixing and mastering, and doing it all remotely from Seattle. No big deal. Thank you Michael!
I’d also like to thank Ingrid Elizabeth, for showing me the ropes on this tour booking thing. I swear – if we hadn’t gone out in our RV and do what we did, I wouldn’t have known that this is even possible – (book a tour your damn self and then get in your unreliable vehicle and go do it.. are you crazy?!) I’m certainly not stellar at it, but it’s happening none the less. Thanks Ings :)
Coincidentally, the above two folks happen to be my Coyote Grace bandmates, and making an album without them was a strange experience. First off – there are so many damn decisions to make, artistic and otherwise, and it really lightens the load when you dont have to make all of them. Second, as I mentioned above, it’s nice to not be the only butt in the photo. And so many other lessons. Many people have asked about the status of Coyote Grace and whether or not we will be playing shows, and the short answer is – yes, Coyote Grace is alive and well, and no, we dont know when they will be back around. Joe is out and about with his solo project, Ingrid and Ty are gearing up for the Big Day, and Michael is busy recording everyone in Seattle. We will see what the future will bring. Or, from a great movie – “I dont know, it’s a mystery.” Here’s to the road, homies.
I also want to send my sincerest gratitude to all the music supporters out there, friends, family, and fans, all yall. Music is a reciprocal thing, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The songs dont really come alive and grow until they are shared. Keeping up in this industry, with all the new media outlets to be monitored, can obscure the true nature of the exchange that we do it all for, but not for long. Thank you everyone, for listening, supporting, and helping the songs grow wings and get on their way to do their work.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank Shaleece Haas, director of the documentary Real Boy that is beginning to make itself known to the world. While following me with a camera for over two years, we have become great friends, and her moral support has been invaluable. I tend not to reach out until it is an emergency, and then the poor person I reach out to has to deal with not just a stressed out friend, but an emergency. I’m working on it.. Thank you so much Shaleece. And of course, my parents, the musicians who cheer on their musical offspring with all the zeal they have. Thank you, thank you :)
I am looking forward to a week at the Rocky Mountain Song School to connect with a great community of music folks, and get caught up on some projects. The CDs arrive tomorrow……….!!! I wont believe it till I see them. The first leg of the tour has begun. Here goes nothing!
This weekend I went to Queer Camp. I was so in the groove of spending all damn day on the computer, an endless stream of booking emails coming and going, flicking back and forth between map and calendar, Facebook and email, Songs of the People and album material… And then along comes Queer Camp, a 3.5 day camping trip in Castro Valley with no phones or computers, to build community and share art and social justice work with queers I may or may not know in a beautiful temperate place. I have to say, it’s not the easiest thing for me to mentally switch gears, especially when I am super nervous about something (like, say, booking a giant US tour and putting out my first solo project), so as fun as it sounded, I wasn’t entirely up for it. But I was teaching a songwriting workshop, so I had to go.
My first evening I had what I can only describe as work/internet withdrawal. My mind was elsewhere and I really wanted to be with it, and instead I was awkwardly meeting new people and swatting mosquitoes. But I figured, since I’ve got my recording schedule all blocked out and I start June 2nd, I should use this time to break out of my compulsive social media checking and energy intensive but only partially productive computer absorption. It turned out to be a good call.
I am always surprised, even though I shouldn’t be by now, at just how small a queer world it is. No one is too many degrees of separation a part, even when folks meet in entirely different ends of the country for seemingly unrelated reasons. Yet, here you are again, you know so-and-so, they know so-and-so who knows so-and-so, oh we met way back in random place with so-and-so. No way! Even so, there can be folks that you may share an entire circle of friends with, been at the same events, but have strangely never met. I was able to connect and reconnect with so many lovely, interesting, and inspiring people, and I fell in love with my community all over again.
The weekend brought us all together, the programming got us all out of our comfort zones and interacting with everyone, and we all became very close. It’s strange to remember first looking around the circle at the semi-unfamiliar faces, and at the end, looking around at the same faces that were now familiar, that showed their depth and insight, and to feel real love between us. When the queer community is so often found in the bars, it was a wonderful thing (especially for this sober guy) to be in a beautiful place out doors, away from the party atmosphere to commune with my fellows.
The songwriting workshop was awesome. Each one is different and they really keep me on my toes, and I hadn’t done one in a while. We got some really interesting pieces out of this one! Someone gave me one of the best and most unique complements I have ever received – they said that I was the song mid-wife! Amazing, and truly an honor. The magic for me is finding that little nugget of concentrated truth, a shining piece of golden art in the ore of words someone just mined, pulling it out and setting it into a form, and building a structure around it. And thus – a song. The magic is also when someone sees their own words, their own story and experience, come alive is a piece of music. It is really, indescribably cool.
So now I am back at the computer, attempting to switch gears yet again back into work mode. The weekend gave me some time to ground out, and settle into my intention for this project. Yes, I am trying to make a living. I can’t do anything if I don’t make a living. But most importantly, I am trying to offer something useful to the world – doing the thing that somehow I seem built for and called to do, and trusting that it is not only an important contribution, but the best one that I can personally make. That’s a pretty tall order, and it reaches beyond this one album – it really is the way I want to live my life. I feel like a toddler in this sober life of mine, my functions barely back on line, the world seeming to be this wide, overwhelming place that I am bumbling through. If I stay the course, I may find myself able to handle far more than I can now, and that would truly be somethin’ else.
So here I go, this coming Monday.. I am locking myself in my studio and I’m not coming out (except to play church gigs, a wedding, and mow lawns) until it’s done. And it must all be ready for submission by July 11th. No big deal.
Wish me luck! Better yet – how bout some patience and perseverance :)
The Central Valley is creeping into the triple digits and California is starting to burn down, just like we thought. I am sweating it out in my second story bedroom/studio, with no natural light and no air flow, laying down tunes. It should be called Funky Hot Box Studios. Sweaty Man Cave Studios. Enticing, no? Come on over for a sauna sesh.
I just sent out the first batch of Songs of the People, what a process it has turned out to be! I vastly underestimated the amount of time it takes to produce a decent song. It’s definitely not like my young days when I might sneeze out a song at any moment.. my standards are higher for one, craft is something I didn’t know much about back then, and the sneezers are like shooting stars – they do happen once in a while, but don’t count on it to happen on demand. I have already learned so much about my process: songs can go through many forms before snuggling in to the one that suits them best; there are an infinity of options at any point in the song (no pressure); they can also be very donkey-like, in that no amount of tugging will coax them from where they want to be. I also found that when it came time to hand them over to their patrons, I had a severe hide-under-the-covers avoidance response.. I clicked “send” feeling like I had pushed the “self-destruct” button on my life boat. I did not expect to feel so vulnerable. People were then waiting for their songs without any updates from me, which made it worse. Normally I would have gotten drunk for a week or two. Well, more likely I would have just blabbered on about the project from my bar stool and never actually started it. I’m so grateful for this project, thank you to everyone for bearing with me, and sharing your beautiful and unique stories. I have four more on the stove, and four interviews to schedule. Shoot me an email if you’d like to jump in line! I promise I will schedule them reasonably this time, and keep people in the loop.
You may have noticed, but I spruced up my website in the last week; gone are the dark brooding, hard to read pages. I also finally started a Facebook Fan Page, which will help me get the word out about the many goings-on in my music world. Like it if you like, annoyingly the numbers do actually mean something in the music business world.
Other news is that I am booking for my Big Damn CD Release Tour in Aug/Sept! I’ll be on the road for a solid two months, if not longer, throwing my new CD at everyone I see, so look out. Starting in Sacto, I’ll head east to CO for a show with Jill B, then split some shows with Iowa boy River Glen, up to MN to play with V and the Dirty Pretty. Then I’ll head down to the Southeast to do a leg with Humble Tripe, then it’s up to the Northeast to do some shows with Bethel Steele. From there I’ll start heading west, I’ll do some shows with Ohio’s wonderful Wormz and the Decomposers. From there we’ll see what comes together. Shows are listed on the website, stay tuned and they will keep rolling in. If you have a suggestion for your area, want to bring me to your college, or any other helpful hints, let me know! If you can’t wait that long, want to hear some new stuff before I get to town, or want to check out two of the Songs of the People, you can watch the Empty Sea show on demand, at The Roots Channel, for only 5 bucks! What a steal.
I hope this finds everyone well. I have to say, none of this would be happening if I wasn’t sober. Gotta give thanks where thanks are due. It has been a weird two plus years since the beginning of Coyote Grace’s hiatus, this isn’t where I thought things would be at this point, but I’m not complaining. The lessons reveal themselves. They can be very donkey-like themselves. Best to just be a vessel and let them evolve.
Stay in the loop!
IF LAB: Transgender
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Joe Stevens and Mouths of Babes
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Joe Stevens, River Glen, and Megan Wormz Bihn
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