We put him to rest

SEATTLE, 6/14

A day spent celebrating the life of Darius. It was a very hard day for me. The reality of Darius’ loss was impossible to deny– up to this point I could still write things off as some kind of huge clerical error or misunderstanding. But there at the Comet Tavern, where Darius used to work, with his friends, his mom, his sisters/cousins, his girlfriend of several years Danielle…denial had no more room to run. Darius was known to be a massive fan of Rush (and other things Canadian– I always said that while he was born in the US, and held US & British passports, he was certainly *ethnically* Canadian). One of his brainstorms was to open a Rush-themed, uh, RUSHtaurant in Toronto, called ‘Spaghetti Lee’s’ with Rush-named dishes: ‘YYZiti’, ‘New World Manicotti’ and the like. So, for this gathering, the Comet was transformed into Spaghetti Lee’s for the afternoon. Friends delivered tearful tributes to Darius. I just couldn’t. Jon did a great job. I was just deflated. Awful. I was beyond speech.

In the evening, Neumo’s, the club across the street, was open for a musical public gathering. Darius used to manage the attached bar, Moe Bar. The Posies, with Darius on drums, was the first band to ever play Neumo’s when it opened in 2004; we did our 20th anniversary shows here in 2008. And now we said goodbye to Darius here. I admit, I drank quite a bit of wine, and a margarita, that afternoon. I’d been picked up at the airport by my good buddy Brian, and we had our traditional Seattle visit to the Red Mill burger place (the tradition extends to calling Dominique from there to tease her in her absence — we both agree it’s the best burger on earth).

Darius played short stints in several Seattle bands over the years including the Long Winters and Harvey Danger, and was close with Spiral Stairs from Pavement, who lived in Seattle for several years; together they formed his solo project ‘Preston School of Industry’. The Posies would be his longest and best known musical project. Spiral (well, Scott is his name) did some songs; Sean Nelson did some songs. Jon & I did two Posies songs — “Conversations” with Matt on bass; and “You’re the Beautiful One” with Joe on bass. I was…somewhere else. It was too soon, the music was not healing me, it was just opening the wound. People seemed to get something from it; hopefully, it was healing for them. I know it would have been bizarre if we didn’t play, but to be honest…it was excruciating. It had to be done. When that was done, Jon led a band with Matt or Joe, Mike from the local music store‘s drum department, Mike Squires, and Joe’s daughter Brette, doing Rush songs. It was pretty amazing. I was still just weighed down with grief. I hugged many friends. And then, at 10, Brian took me to the airport. Not such a crowded flight back to New York, so I managed to get upgraded to first, so I had a pretty comfortable chair and could sleep the whole way.

Incredibly, it’s already a month since Darius passed.

It was 8 when we landed in New York, and I claimed my bag and took the Airtrain, then the Long Island Railroad, then the subway to the house in Brooklyn. I was back to work on the Max Bouratoglou project. We spent two amazing days in Grand Street Recording cutting drums (Max & I) bass (me), vocals (Max of course), tambourine (that’s my department) piano and organ (me again) and upright bass (Max’s schoolmate Gus). It was good to be productive and despite flying in on a red eye, I felt pretty good. The studio is my home. Jake, the house engineer made my job easy, being available to patch stuff in, then disappearing discretely so I could run things myself. Ken, the owner came by, great guy. Then we went back to Max’s place for the next two days. The wonderful home designed and built by his parents, John & Jill. My connection to them is that Jill and I were friends all the way back in my college years at the University of Washington. Jill took the photos on the cover and back cover of Failure. We’ve always been friends, and Max has always been in to music; I can remember Jill being in town and bringing him by the sessions for “Soft Commands” for example. Now he writes his own songs, and is immersed in music at his school, too. So, last year we cut an EP in the same fashion — I recorded stuff at his home on my mobile set up, and then we did drums at Grand Street. We did more songs this time, so I had us book two days at Grand Street — in the end, Max did all the drums in a day. Neither of us are great drummers, yet — Max is primarily a guitarist & singer– but he’s definitely improved since last year. I’m not great, but I have more experience — sometimes, it was easier for me to play a part than teach it to Max, so I’d jump on the kit and play a few bars–about as much as I can do without succumbing to cascading errors. So in the end, each song has Max with some of me. Max’s lyrics and singing are much improved too — he got to where he needed to be more quickly, and, being 14, he’s over the voice-breaking stage which did make things more challenging for him last year. I found a depth to his writing that, even tho it’s clearly in a teenager’s voice, implies what could be ahead for him as a writer if he keeps at it. He’s got a great head start.

Back at the house, it’s a wonderful atmosphere. Jill & John made huge dinners each night (there are two boys to feed, Max’s brother Julian is 11). Just a nice, mellow, healthy family atmosphere. The last two days we had some guests come by as well: Lorenza Ponce who is an A-list violin player (I saw her play with Sheryl Crow, e.g.) came by for a song. Two more of Max’s classmates came by: Bal, who did background vocals, and Zach, who did trumpet. Even Friday before I heded uptown I was throwing down some last percussion ideas and keyboards. I’ll mix everything this summer.

So, I said my goodbyes; Max & Jill walked me to the subway, and I learned how to navigate with my big suitcase and other stuff; made it to my business manager’s office uptown for a powwow; then got the train to Stamford to hang with my dad. Uh, and Jill ended up coming to Grand Central as I forgot to hand her the *%#$@ key to the house. D’oh!

I took the train to Stamford, getting into some vocal editing on the way for the Popincourt album I’m mixing. My dad grabbed me there and we rolled to New Canaan, where I’ve been hanging ever since. I’ve met some great people thru my dad, so I have some good friends here, plus good food & wine (yep, I hit up Walter Stewart’s, the main grocery store in town, for a stash of Nutty Bunny vegan dessert, a favorite of mine). And of course, my dad, who is hilarious. Love him a lot. I fly back home tonite, having spent Father’s Day with dad, that’s doing it right, yeah?

Love
KS
New Canaan

Americaca

It’s striking how much I love being at home, considering I still love touring, touring being a major part of my life since I was 20. In the past it hasn’t taken long for me to get itchy feet. But where we our now, with the trees and birdsong, the lizards and the bees, the sound of Aden’s singing and laughter; with the studio upstairs, our humble little life in Tours suits me perfectly. The neighborhood in terms of pace reminds me very much of the street I lived on in Seattle; I wasn’t in an urban environment, really, a bit more suburban without the distance of say, where my dad lives in Connecticut, which is truly suburban.

This week I was mixing the Popincourt album, starting on it anyway, working on the first 4 songs. Mixing now is second nature to me, and these songs, with their well-defined vintage groovy tracks, came with a direction well established so it was not difficult to get to the heart of the matter. On Sunday we took a break and went to LuluParc, which has simple things — watersides, trampolines, and the like. Aden loves it, and as a bonus, it was the airshow at the local airport/air base, so we had the jets in formation flying over us, as the base is just over the hill from where the park is. Rain came one day, I recall retrieving something from the basement (the entrance to the basement is from the outside of the house) and seeing how the rain brought out dozens of snails, from tiny newborns to big ones. There’s a jay who has established its territory near us, and is now frequenting our back yard, occasionally we leave things out there for the birds (they even took away the remnants of a gluten free loaf that had coalesced into something the texture of concrete).

Dom had business in Paris this week, and in fact when I left on Wednesday I met her in the train station — me going, she arriving, Aden & Dom’s folks picking her up. As always, leaving them is very emotional. Speaking of emotions, tho…I finally finished mixing the Country Album. After my day of mixing Popincourt would wrap, I’d go up and listen to the mixes and make adjustments to some of the songs where I felt things could yet be improved. Finally–because I had to leave town, and we need to get this stuff mastered and to the pressing plant — I had to let it go. Same thing with Mimi Schell‘s mixing, tho we have some time on that– I went thru another round on some of her songs, hearing details I could improve.

So, by Weds. night I was at our Paris flat; “Dancing Eagle”, the drummer from the Supersuckers was in town with his lovely wife Jill; they live in Austin and had dined at Le Septime on my recommendation. We had a bottle of wine and caught up, then I went to bed, but fell asleep having the big playback on the country record on my Paris stereo. No more flaws; it’s done. I also got the master back for the Phantom Sound album, made comments and I think that turned out great too, after one minor revision.

So Thursday morning, despite the short night, I headed to Charles de Gaulle feeling very good indeed. Flew to New York, watching movies the whole way (four of them). Breezed thru my formalities, claimed my bag, cabbed to my friends Jill & John’s place in Brooklyn, and got right to work. Just like we did last year, I’m producing songs for their teenage son, Max. Jill is a friend from college, and as Max has always been interested in music, he’s been popping by the studio to see me since he was knee high to a grasshopper. And now, writing songs of his own, we’re making them into proper recordings. We did an EP last year, and we’re doing a few more songs this year, not quite an LP’s worth but if you added the two together it would be. We keep it simple — track with my mobile set up in his room, and then cut drums at a proper studio, Grand Street. Max plays drums, and we share guitar duties; I’ll play bass and keys, and Max sings of course. This time we’re going to have some guest musicians, too. When I arrived, we went straight to work, starting to lay down guide tracks of guitar and vocal, and edit them to finalize the arrangements of the songs. Then over the next two days we did all the guitars, and the lead vocals. We’re just cutting to a metronome (‘click track’ in the argot of my profession) and Max will play drums to these tracks.

Each night, Jill & John cook up incredible food; lunch I have taken supplies from Trader Joe’s. And their neighborhood, Cobble Hill, has a wealth of hipster cafes and bars to visit– I have enjoyed Marquet patisserie and June wine bar on this trip so far. We worked relentlessly for these days; then this morning, as dawn broke over the Atlantic, I headed to JFK, where today and tonite I will take part in the memorial gathering for our buddy Darius. I’m still not fully convinced his death is real, I’m still thinking this is all a misunderstanding. Not sure that will ever change.

Love
KS
flight to Seattle

San Marino on the rocks

When the week began, we had S. Kyle Robinson in the house; Sunday was the second day of doing overdubs, then Monday and Tuesday we worked on vocals, doing lead vocals for all his 9 songs, and I did backing vocals, vocal edits and added more overdubs if I found something was still wanting. In the nights after our sessions, I did the last mix for the country album, the live take of “Time of the Preacher” with Keren Ann in Paris; not much to mix– I had a stereo track to work with, but there were some mouth clicks and other things to pencil out; I added some reverb, and got the level up substantially, the take was recorded at a very low level to avoid peaks.

Wednesday was the last day for touching up Mimi Schell‘s mixes, make instrumental mixes, etc. A big job, there were some songs that didn’t need further touching up but a few needed some relatively important changes. We did have time to take dinner with Kyle, tho, at the Chateau Tortiniere, just outside of Tours. Aden came too, and we had our aperitif on the terrace over looking the pool, and the surrounding valley and woods. Beset by mosquitoes that should have aircraft identification letters on their tails, we took a table, at well, and Dom & I navigated home in the dark, despite the earlier of a massive, yellow moon. Back at the house, I worked until very late on the rest of Mimi mixes.

Thursday morning we got Aden to school, and I busied myself getting ready to go. Dom was kind enough to drive out to the chateau and give Kyle a ride to his train — my train was leaving from Tours, so I was on my own. Dom took off after lunch, I futzed around, cleaned up the house, made sure all the towels were out of the dryer and hanging in the sun, did every dish I could find, hit the road. A great day for a train ride, and the first step of the journey was a nice one — a TER, that is, a non-hi-speed train, to Le Mans. I had the solo seat at the very front of the first class car, so I was barricaded in by my suitcase, and could look out the window at the golds and greens of the French countryside. In Le Mans I had just a few minutes to find my TGV, but find it I did, and it wasn’t long before I was at the Air France check in in Charles De Gaulle. For European flights, the process of check in is now fully automated– you print and apply the tag to your luggage, then advance to an unmanned check in desk, use a scanning gun to scan your boarding pass and bag tag, put your bag on the belt, and it’s done.

I had a lot of time to kill. Pretty sad little dinner in terminal 2, and I spent the rest of my down time analyzing the mixes for the country album, Mimi’s album, and check the mastering for the Phantom Sound album, which tho it took ’em a while, is amazing. Emily Lazar did it, at the Lodge…pretty legendary place, and I have to say, I have almost zero comments on it; typically on the first round of mastering there’s a handful.

By the time I boarded my flight to Bologna, I had a list of things to try on the country mixes, Mimi’s mixes, and a few notes for Marisa on her mastering. So, on the flight, I could snooze without guilt.
We landed, and I got my suitcase. My friend Suz, who set up this weekend’s activities, was there waiting outside bag claim, with her friend Cristian. We had a train to catch, and my flight was a little bit late getting to the gate. But…all of a sudden, Suz’s train app informed us the train to Rimini was delayed by….23 minutes. Of course. We ended up with time to kill on the platform. They announced the train was coming in on another platform, the one behind us. No problem. We got on board, and only then did Suz think to check where our seats were…well, no problem…just the other end of the train. We started walking. Most of this late night train, which starts in Milan and goes all the way down the length of the boot, was wagons lit. It gave the train a strange air. Sometimes a car would be completely shut up tight, no sign there were people on it. Other times, there were doors ajar, and you glimpsed people, looking, frankly, kind of miserable, in their beds.

At last we arrived in the compartment. Two other guys were there, one was chatty, one dozed. Oh, and a studious looking young woman. She watched something on her iPad, but eventually talked to us. Stops were not announced on the way, and the train was so far off its schedule the app stopped working. Because our car was the last, we usually couldn’t even see the signage on the platform to see what town we were in. But the girl was getting off at the stop before us, and we figured it out. Meanwhile, the conductor appeared, and Suz presented our reservation info. According to the conductor, we were on the wrong train; our actual train was so delayed it hadn’t even left Milan yet; trains were running 4-5 hours behind. Out of loyalty, we should have sacrificed and waited, perhaps for another day, for our train. So, we got a lecture, even though it was the train company’s fault that the trains were that far behind, and in fact, none of this was apparent. On the platforms we were presented with the trains as if they *were* on time. Remember in Italy, this kind of stuff can get to the Monty Python level of absurd.

We got off in Rimini, it was about 1am. Incredibly, Suz had convinced the desk clerk from our hotel to come and get us. And there he was, with his girlfriend — now having waited about 45 minutes for us, as compared to our original arrival time.

Where were we going? Why, the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, of course.

San Marino, the world’s oldest republic, is a tiny fortified town perched high on a nearly vertical column of rock, shooting up some 750 feet from the towns at the base. San Marinus, a stonecutter, hiked his way up there some 1700 years ago, and stone cut himself a church, which, in that time, got you a sovereign nation and sainthood. Now, it would get you a few youtube hits, maybe. It’s been a republic since those times. No king. San Marino even boasts a truly unique historical achievement: it’s the only country in the world to have an *elected* communist government. That is, it had a communist party in power, without having a revolution. This was in the 1950s, as the country had to rebuild itself after The Second World War had left things rather untidy. Perhaps it was a way to organize that task to that every citizen took part. Nowadays, it’s a little tiny country, which makes money from tourism, enjoys very low taxes, and more or less operates with the same features — open border, the Euro, etc — as the the countries of the EU, Schengen and the Eurozone, without being a member of any of these organizations. In other words…they get to keep their money, and it shows — the standard of living is higher–everyone is a little richer than their neighbors in Italy.

Well, at nearly 2am, there wasn’t much to see. Which concerned me, as our driver, Marco, was taking these hairpin turns on the way up the mountain at about 60 miles an hour, and I don’t think he could see any more than I could. And I was in the back seat. Evidently, there’s just a few roads in the whole country — you get comfy.

The legend of our hotel, the iDesign hotel, … was that it was built a decade ago, and was shut down soon after; the owner, already a nightclub owner of great enterprise, was using it to facilitate his interest in the sex trade. The police shut down the hotel, and this man evidently simply packed up his suitcases of Euros, and moved to Brazil, none the worse for wear. The central bank of the country bought the place, fixed it up, and sold it to the next investor. Anyway, what you need to know is that ‘design’ in hotels always means you’re going to spend an extra 40 minutes figuring out how to turn the tap off, and that the bidet is square. Don’t get me wrong– I loved it. Breakfast was healthy and generous. Wifi worked like a charm. Bummer about this part of the world tho is that the posts/corresponding holes for electrical outlets are closer together than in the rest of Europe. So, my usual plugs didn’t fit. I had one plug converter that would work, which meant at any one time I could charge my phone (which has a very short battery life) or my laptop. The USB charger for my phone died just before I left, so I only have a wall-mount charger, from the US. First world problems. Enough of this chit chat, it was bedtime. We have a country to explore in the morning!

SAN MARINO, 6/5

They actually changed the breakfast time for the entire hotel, just for us. Normally it ended at 10, but Saturday they extended it to 11. I was pretty tired from the previous day’s travel, so I needed it. It was hot, already. At about noon, the hottest part of the day, Suz & I set off for the actual city of San Marino; the hotel was downhill a bit from the ancient citadel. We walked up the shoulder of the road; We saw no one else walking on the road. For one it was hot, for another, you need a car to get in and out of San Marino, except for the hourly bus service to Rimini. Tour groups arrive and depart on a regular basis, too. Only fools like us would walk in 90 degree heat, even if the route was generally shaded by trees the whole way. In fact, I love things like this. It was so extreme, so demanding. It was a quest, an adventure — with a goal. The thing to do, you see, is to visit all three of San Marino’s iconic medieval towers. But first we needed to find the city itself. Not a lot of signs on the way. But finally we saw a few buildings, and some people. We came out of the trees. I went into the first shop we saw, bought Aden a post card, wrote it; the shopkeepers asked for selfies with me, then we dropped the card in a mail box and worked our way into the old center. San Marino city it extremely small; other tiny capitals — Vaduz, Andorra La Vella…look like Tokyo compared to this little bourg. It’s just a few switchbacks and fortified walls. In the middle of the town is a quarry where much of the stone for the the fortifications came from. Oh, yes. Who runs this republic? The Captains Regent. There are two who run the country together, and they change every 6 months. Imagine. It never stops. On the day they are elected, the citizens have the right to present their grievances, in person. And the Captain has to listen and take note. Then, after that day, it’s no longer open for this kind of direct dialogue. The Captain Regent has another responsibility: upon being elected he/she must buy a crossbow, and put it in the state armory, to symbolically contribute to the defense of the nation.

Over the centuries…that’s a lot of crossbows.

We had lunch to strengthen up. While Suz called the hotel to see which restaurant they recommended. I watched a lizard, a wall lizard just like we have in my garden, pursue its prey at the edge of the ancient quarry that you find in the middle of town. The lizard was a little different than its French counterpart–instead of variations of brown, it was mostly green on the front half of its body. I enjoyed watching its agile jumps to snatch gnats from midair.

We lunched at il Ritrovo Dei Lavoratori Agostini Massimo, enjoying the local wine; red is generally sangiovese and excellent; white is moscato spumante and very refreshing in the heat. The food of San Marino is generally that of Emilia-Romagna. A typical dish would be a “Piada” which is flatbread folded around something…cheese, meat. It’s not hard to follow the etymology of “Piada” to “pita”. The typical pasta of the region is “Strozzapreti” or “priest-strangler” which is handrolled. It was also truffle season, and despite that we were warned otherwise, food in San Marino was cheap by Parisian standards. Something like €13.00 for ravioli covered in sliced truffle.

Fortified by our meal, we hiked the three towers. At some point, you’re looking down (and distrubingly, the walkway around the top of the tower has drainage holes, human sized, that are now covered with metal bars for safety, but still…below your feet there’s a nearly thousand-foot drop. Being inside these towers is vertiginous enough; what about the people building the things??

The third tower is the runt of the three; in fact, it has no apparent entry and you are simply left standing in the woods to admire it from below. Rather than walk back in to town, we decided to press forward, taking a trail that emerged at the national radio/TV station, and we could follow the road back to the hotel from there.

Naps and a little drum editing back at the hotel. Then, in the evening, Edri from the venue picked us up and took us to their tiny bar and cultural association, Il Macello. The bar as on a rampart of the city, so from right outside the door, the view of the sunset on the surrounding hills was magical. There was a piano there, and we brought in a small amp and a guitar. Andrea, the sound engineer was friendly and articulate young man. And the Panda! Nico, the other partner, who drives a gorgeously restored Bedford van from the 70s, arrived. He’s an expert gardener, and is all smiles. Soundcheck was done, we moved the piano in to position and repositioned the small PA, and got the sound going. And back to the same restaurant for dinner! No problem there.

By about ten, the club was opening and people were on the rampart drinking and talking. The bar was at the entry level; then the room for performing was down below, in a cool cave. It was a bit hard to get people motivated to head down there, the night air being so pleasant, but people came down, mostly quite young, settled in on the floor or the handful of benches, or stood, and I started to play–and got a roar of applause after the first song! Wow. Well, that was nice. People really responded well, and the show was reasonably long. I played an altered version of “Time of the Preacher” with humorous lyrics about my day in their country. There was an encore, and a duet, with Suz (who had performed it with me in Spain a few years ago). I sang well, and the piano was in tune enough to play as long as I avoided a certain C 2 8va below middle C. Or, just played it anyway.

After the show, I chatted with locals, drank red wine, sold CDs. And in no time…it was 2am. I drunkenly appealed for a ride, and The Panda gave us a lift in the Bedford.

In the morning, it was a bit tough to get up, but by 9am Edri, having just closed up the bar three hours previously (he wasn’t even sure at this point if he locked the door) picked us up and gave us a ride to Rimini. We stopped just inside the country to have a coffee with the Panda. I had, as I love it, a Caffe D’orzo, that is a coffee substitute made from barley, which you can generally only find in Italy. We got our train, now express, on time, and even air conditioned, to Bologna; Suz did the books and handed me the profit of the tour; put me on a bus to the airport and caught her train back to Rome. I flew back to Paris, and caught my train to Tours, working on preparing the first mix for Popincourt on the way. Dom & Aden picked me up at the station, and we headed downtown for a glass of wine at a wine bar, and Syrian food, all on the trendy rue Colbert. It was gay pride, so lots of partiers about. It was a miracle we found a parking spot downtown. Back at the house, I executed all the mix touch ups for the country album and Mimi’s album, and did all the instrumental versions for the country album. Woah! And so to bed. Another international adventure, perfectly executed. Friends made, music exchanged. Thanks Suz and to my new Sanmarinese friends!

Love
KS
Tours

is anything ever normal

The weekend, still reeling from the sudden death of our friend and bandmate Darius. Honestly, I’ve been in a fog ever since. I dove in to work. The country album with Holly’s campaign came to a close, we exceeded our goal. You can still preorder the album, of course. But I mixed it … all 14 songs. This week. And finished up the last mix for Mimi Schell‘s album, which had gotten a sidetracked with the news of Darius. And finished the Sweet Gum Tree mix, for the second of two songs we recorded at the top of the month. And then S. Kyle Robinson arrived last night and today we started working on his latest album, doing overdubs on basic tracks he recorded in Glasgow. Thank God for the work. It not only pays the rent, but it keeps me grounded, and also..gives me something to do…if I had to sit around and contemplate the loss of my friend, I’d go mad.

A little bright spot: on a real estate errand we went Sunday afternoon to Vouvray, and found it was the ‘fore aux vins’, that is, a wine expo for Vouvray wines. In a winding cave, about 20 producers of Vouvray wine — white wines that can be dry, sweet, sparkling — many expressions and styles of wine, but virtually all made from one grape, Chenin Blanc. You buy a glass, which you keep, for €3, and then enter and can taste all the wines inside, plus there were cheesemakers, the famous Hardouin, a charcutier of great renown in the region. Another branch of the cave was set up as a restaurant, so we had lunch. We tasted a lot wine, bought some, and left very happy. It was a gorgeous day. Other than that… I simply worked my ass off. One night when Dom was in Paris, and Aden was away on a school trip this week, I worked til 3am. In fact, on during this school trip, Aden turned 11. The first birthday we weren’t together, at least Dom & Aden, I’ve certainly been on tour for some birthdays but never has she been away from both of us. Wow.

She was fine, I don’t think she even missed us, she had a great time.

After the session tonight Kyle & I trammed down to the guingette, shared a bottle of wine and discussed our lives, our art. It felt good. There was a live salsa band playing. People breathing fire. The picture at the link makes the place look tiny, but it’s sprawling, I think there are on a weekend night around 1000 people hanging out, maybe more. It’s cacophonous, vibrant. It’s about as happening as Tours gets, so we’ll take it.

We found a dead lizard on our stairsteps. We don’t know why it died. The lizards here are called European Wall Lizards, they are quite numerous. Generally they are speckled brown, to match the rocks and the dead leaves in the undergrowth. We put it on some metal siding to dry out. A bird took it after a few hours, but before it disappeared, it did something interesting — it turned blue, cornflower blue.

The Record, which Holly & I have made. It’s really special. The idea was casually proposed, almost a dare. Make a country album about the people in “Doesn’t It Remind You of Something”. Get some friends to play on it. Very casual. You know what…it’s incredible what came out of it. Some amazing songs, some beautiful performances, and I think the country vibe suits me. It’s not cliché country. It veers…thru Tex Mex, folk, bluegrass…the songs are some of my best, and there are songs from other people too, that just sound wonderful. Holly wrote some gorgeous songs, and her singing — despite the fact she was fighting bronchitis for the sessions, is just…heart wrenching. This was music we were born to make. We took to the genre like ducks to duckweed. And we had incredible contributions from a bunch of musicians and singers, people have been very generous to us, with their time and their talent. I’m very grateful.

Just so you know.

Love
KS
Tours

Loss

CC0A5222 This image, by Niffer Calderwood, is from the Posies last Seattle appearance. A great action shot of the four of us, with Darius going crazy, like he could.

It was all going so well. A week at home. I was happily working on mixing Mimi Schell‘s album, I’d gotten to the last day, and was trying to mix a song so well I wouldn’t need the morning after to listen to it. The house was empty, on Thursday — I was looking forward to having a night where I could make noise and do whatever til the wee hours, to catch up. Dominique was in Paris for various appointments and projects. Aden was sleeping over at a friend’s.

The phone rang around 7.30, 8pm. I’d just gotten off the phone with Dominique, and I was downstairs listening back to a mix. My cell phone rang up in my room right after I hung up with Dom. I thought maybe she’d forgotten to tell me something. It rang again, straight away. Now, normally, my phone is off. People just don’t reach me on my French phone, for the most part. Folks in the US email me. Folks in Europe email me. Days go by where the phone isn’t even on, I turn it on when I’ll be carrying it around away from Dom and she might need to reach me. It was on, that night. I don’t remember ever giving my new number (I changed phone numbers here in France about 3 years ago) to Mike Squires but maybe he was coming to France on tour at some point recently and I gave it to him. The fact is, the chance that he had my number and that my phone was on, both, was really slim.

Anyway, it was Mike Squires, who rented the upstairs room in my Seattle house in the early 2000s. And it was he who told me the news. Our friend, one of our closest friends, and drummer in the Posies for the last 15 years, Darius Minwalla, was dead. My brain walked in circles while he spoke. What was he even talking about?

My heart rate immediately went through the roof, as the shock hit me. As I struggled with the news, even as I dialed Jon’s number, I was reasonably sure this was a huge prank being played, a sick one–it’s not nice to wind people up like that. Like a robot, I delivered the news to Jon, even though the human part of me didn’t believe it.

About an hour later, Darius’ girlfriend, Danielle, called me. It wasn’t a joke.

We still don’t have answers, there’s an autopsy being done. What we know — in the last weeks he had stomach problems and if I understood correctly, chest pains. He had a traumatic fall last year, we almost had to find a replacement for him for some shows, when he was still working at the Biltmore Cabaret, in Vancouver where he’s been living for the last…5 years? 6? We all think of Darius as a Seattle guy, still, by reflex. Even though he’s from Boise, and North Carolina by birth. Anyway, he put his foot in a leg-sized hole in the basement there, and fell, breaking two ribs on the edge of the hole. Was there further internal damage that wasn’t seen at the time? We don’t know. We know that Darius was home, from what I knew he was no longer working at the Biltmore, if I understood correctly. Danielle went to work. She texted with him about 11am (this would be Wednesday). She had urged him to see a doctor about the various symptoms he had been showing since coming home from Japan (touring with Hugh Cornwell) a couple weeks before; scheduled to do another tour with Hugh, she urged him to get a checkup before going. He agreed. He had spoken to his mom between 11 and noon. In the afternoon, Danielle texted to say she’d be working late, and was puzzled when he didn’t reply. She came home that night and found him unresponsive, in fact, he was already in rigor mortis. The paramedics on the phone asked her to do CPR, but he was cold, she couldn’t even unfold him to lay him down. He’d probably been gone since about midday. His laptop was open; he had been looking up a doctor to make an appointment with.

What to do with the news? I was fighting with its veracity. It had to be joke, or a mistake. At the same time, the adrenalin was shooting through me. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t be in one place. Alone. No one to talk to. I opened and drank a bottle of vouvray (sparkling wine from our region here). Then another. The news started to go around the internet. People started to get in touch. I tried to work on Mimi’s last mix, or listen to other things…mostly I got extremely drunk and just felt awful. I think I went to bed at 5.30, finally.

at 9 I had to be up, again. I made an announcement on Facebook as the rumors were shooting every which way. I don’t remember even posting the announcement. At 10, Olivier, the singer of Popincourt, arrived and we did the second half of the vocals for his album; we’d done the first half in March. I was so glad to have something in front of me to do. We don’t have wifi at home so while working, the internet and all its bad news was out of sight, out of mind. I shut the idea of Darius off from my conscious mind. Aden was delivered after school by her grandma, and Olivier took a train home around 8. I cooked for Aden. When Olivier left, I opened up the computer, saw all the posts, all the reactions to my post. I’d IM’d with Sean Nelson for his Stranger piece at some point, in the middle of the night, I don’t even remember doing that. The feelings came flooding back. I was so sad. I went back and worked on Mimi’s mix, just to have something to do. Aden went to bed, Dom got home that night around 11.

Yesterday, the same feeling. Dread when I woke up, after the escape of dreams. I went to the market with Dom, the post office, a coffee. Little routines. At midday Liisa came, we were going to spend a half day touching up her mixes, seeing to small details, on the album we’ve been working on since 2010. Again, good to have someone there to distract me. The work with Olivier and Liisa was pleasant, engaging, not stressful. Then, at the end of the day, the internet gets plugged in to my computer, and I see all the messages– hundreds a day, from friends and strangers — and the reality comes back.

As Liisa was heading back to Paris, I joined her on the tram, went downtown, met Dom & Aden, and we had barbecue and vouvray at the guinguette. A guinguette is an outdoor drinking & gathering place. The city of Tours has established an elaborate outdoor space with food, drinks, a play area for the kids on the banks of the Loire. Dom and I stayed for hours, and I drank too much. Right now, I can’t be trusted, the pain is too great. I need to calm myself and accept Darius’ loss, and accept that life is here for the rest of us, it’s OK to be alive.

Jon met Darius, presumably when he was working the coffee cart on Capitol Hill in the late 90s. Just a kid, really. Something odd about the Posies drummers– they all lost their fathers to illness as teenagers. Mike, Brian and Darius. Jon, at this time, was a lost soul, I believe. He’d divorced his first wife, and announced he wanted to quit the band. We did our farewell album, Success. I was devastated by that, but I moved on — quickly. A few weeks after the Posies farewell show in San Francisco, I was on tour with REM, playing with Neil Young. Jon didn’t have such a warm place to go. He joined the band Lucky Me, which did a major label album, that as far as I know, never got released. He needed someone to show him that life was a good thing, he was pretty dark. Darius was all positive, looked up to Jon, really nurtured him. And he was young and strong — they partied together, a lot. Jon and Darius and Mike Squires and other friends toured behind Jon’s nascent solo catalogue (Jon’s album came some years down the road).

Three years after splitting up, our friends at Houston Party in Spain offered us a tour in Spain for their label anniversary, in February of 2001. We decided to do it, having already done some acoustic duo shows. Joe Bass was in, but Brian Young, by this time busy with Fountains of Wayne, declined. Who to get? Mike Musburger and we hadn’t really repaired our friendship from his quitting after a physical confrontation between himself and myself that was the final blow to years of tension.

Jon proposed Darius. I’m sure glad he did. Darius’ enthusiasm and the fun and warmth he brought to the band extended to life outside the band. He became our buddy. His inexperience, relative to Brian and Mike, behind the kit, toughened up quickly. By the time we toured with the Pernice Brothers & the Chamber Strings supporting us, that summer, we were a fucking furious rock band. Joe Bass wasn’t working for us at that time, and we’d spotted Matt Harris playing w Oranger at SXSW that year and asked him to join us. This band, Jon, Darius, Matt, myself — went on to make two great albums and tour the world. For almost 15 years. We had a lot of adventures, ups and downs. I’m not sure I can recall Darius ever being negative or bummed out. I used him on my own recordings, too. He plays drums on “You Drew” the opening track on “Soft Commands”. One of my favorite recordings of “one take D” as we called him — as he could nail a song on the first try — is my version of “Down on My Knees” by Bread for a tribute album. It’s not posted online to stream, but for D’s sake, download it. We sped the tape up after tracking the drums, so that they’d have a tighter sound, and it compressed the energy of the track.

When I toured the West Coast with the Maldives two years ago, we played in Vancouver at the Biltmore Cabaret. By this time, Darius was the venue manager and living in Vancouver. He had a great apartment with Danielle, who he’d met up there, around the corner. I stayed there that night. We had dinner together, all of us, at a great sushi place up the street. We had a wonderful show, and Darius hung out with us, as we drank tequila and stayed up late. An epic night, so much fun. I think about it often. The last time the Posies played together was at a kind of odd show, a free show in Wenatchee to kick off the ski season, last Halloween. It wasn’t our best show, but it was a great hang. That’s the last time I saw Darius. We were in touch, of course. But of course– you take your friends, who are healthy, and young, for granted. For the record, the last appearance we made in Seattle, at Macefield Festival in early October last year, was a barn burner.

Darius had lived in Pakistan as a teenager. His dad, a gifted surgeon specializing in the stomach, was from there. His mom was from Britain, they met there. He spent a year of junior high in Pakistan, and recounted incredible stories from that time. He was born in North Carolina, his dad being invited to bring his family to the States and take a position at a university hospital in the Research Triangle. Darius, accent on “Dare”, is a traditional Persian name, in line with his dad’s ethnicity. The southerners called him Da-RYE-us. Even tho, another well-known Darius, from Virginia is DARE-ee-us from Hootie and the Blowfish. I’m not sure what prompted the move to Boise, or when his dad died, etc. But he went to high school in Boise. His mom remarried. Darius has at least two sisters and numerous cousins — all female, it seems, and all very nice, and all loved Darius very much, so it was hard for me to tell who was a sibling and who was a cousin– they were all close. They lived all over the place — Toronto, LA, Argentina — we would run into them on tour all the time. Darius’ mom & stepdad hosted us in Boise. Darius just…wasn’t fucked up. Jon & I, we’re pieces of work. Matt can be a nutcase. Darius was ever upbeat, caring, fun. He played drums too loud, he played too fast. So what. He never played boring. I couldn’t even imagine writing all the memories of joy and laughter and music I have with Darius. It’s a book in itself.

Darius loved living in Vancouver. He loved Canada– anyone who knows him will bring up his love for the band Rush (Darius gave me his SECOND copy of the Rush 30th Anniversary DVD to make SURE I watched it). He loved the Toronto Blue Jays. Girls went gaga over him, he had years of growing up amongst loving female energy that made him very comfortable around women. He was respectful, and a serial monogamist. Over the years, I knew him as single only for a few months. Even with 40 approaching, he had the face of a kid.

He was very loved…by thousands of people. That is the good news, in all this bad news. His impact on the world was positive. It will be mourned, and missed. I loved him.

Here’s a great musical moment with Darius, to leave you with. I mixed this song, but Scott Greiner, who mixed several of the songs on Blood/Candy, had heard the tracks, and offered to edit the drum fill into the second verse. Technically, it’s out of time…I guess. I just hear it as a great spontaneous moment. It’s life. It happened, and I would never alter it in a million years. It’s beautiful.

Love
KS
Tours