Why We Art.

Only 17 days left for the Ken & Holly campaign!!! We need your help!!! Please pledge to preorder our LP/CD/download of “The Record: A Country Concept Album”. Holly & I explore the backstory of the characters in my song “Doesn’t It Remind You of Something”. We based the format of the album on Willie Nelson’s 1970s concept record “The Red Headed Stranger”. Special guests include Keren Ann, Matthew Caws (Nada Surf), Vicki Peterson (the Bangles), Andy Shauf, Shelby Earl, and a host of great instrumental players too numerous to mention. Pledge here. We have a lot of great extras remaining too!

I spent Monday and Tuesday working in my studio on two new songs by Sweet Gum Tree, a one man band lead by Arno Sojo, a Frenchman living near Angers. His last album is an orchestral masterpiece, recorded in part with a Belorussian symphony orchestra. Good grief! How to top that…?? Well, you can’t, but you can take a different tack. We went for songs that were based on his guitar playing, and went for some fanciful, modulating, complex guitar tones. We added various keyboards, and some drum programming (more to come). He sang his vocals and some backing vocals (I’ll add more). We worked hard, and felt we had the basis for two great songs, provided I filled in a few details before mixing, which will happen this week.

As you may have read last week, my travel to meet up with Arno meant that I had to leave my hotel in Holland at about 5am, which meant getting up at 4.30. I’d only gotten to bed at 1, since the Posies show was long and late. The short sleep, even with a couple extra hours on the train, was not enough, and my body paid the price. Plus, it was cold and damp, even torrential-ly wet, in Tours. Laundry I did when I arrived was still wet Tuesday afternoon when the sun came out long enough to dry a couple of things on the rail to balcony. It was so windy, tho, that I had to bungee the lighter sheet to the rail. I had just enough clean stuff to make Arno’s bedding. But the lack of sleep (Monday night I was up late finishing last week’s blog) and the surprising coldness of the house — stormy and blustery as Tours was, it was warm– took its toll. The burning in my throat could not be beaten back, even with all the delicious juices–infused with ginger and garlic–that I was making.

HASSELT, 5/6

I felt OK, Wednesday morning, a sunny day at that, when Arno drove me to the station, but my throat could not be made to feel moisturized, it was dry and raw. I could sing, but I knew I’d be fighting this all week and the odds of beating it on tour were slim. I snoozed on the way up to Paris in the train, crossed Paris in a taxi, and got to Gare de Nord surprisingly quick. I had a meeting there with a band, believe it or not, my second meeting with a band interested in an album project; my third meeting with their manager. We met up at one of the coffee places in the station, and their manager Philippe was even kind enough to help me haul all my stuff to the train — I had my suitcase, which was full to bursting with a box of vinyl Holly had shipped to my house, I’d already broken a handle getting it in to Arno’s car; I had my effects bag with my pedal board; and a guitar. And my backpack, let’s not forget.

I boarded the train to Brussels, and tried to rest as much as possible. Jon was on this train, and we made our way to the platform for our Hasselt train, and Holly joined us there. This was one of those trains which splits in two, and unf. the cars are not marked individually, there was no signage on the train etc, this was one of those SNCB trains that comes straight out of Mary Tyler Moore colors. Well, we were on the right train, we just had to ask some folks. I passed the enormous crate of albums to Holly, she re packed her stuff on the train, and gave us chocolate in return — good deal! We got to Hasselt about an hour later, and hopped off the train. No chance for the handicapped at this station– godawful stairs down and up. Wow.

We loaded ourselves into a cab, who took us first to the wrong hotel, then the right one, grabbed the keys to our rooms, then proceeded to the venue, the Muziek-O-Droom. Some great shows here in the past: Posies acoustic in 2000, Disciplines in 2009, my solo show with Eva Auad in 2012. They’ve always taken good care of the artists, and the audience is adventurous and cool. We hoped for a more progressive reception than some of the folks in Holland gave us. Now that I had my effect pedals, I could set up more consistently each night. We felt OK onstage, we kept the soundcheck short as there were three artists playing tonite…more on that later.

We cabbed to the same restaurant where Eva & I dined before my show, I think the conversation we had that evening is where our acquaintanceship became less formal, and we became friends, and this laid the groundwork for me producing her album the following year. An album which just came out, and is incredible, by the way, and you should purchase immediately (here). An important night! Tonite, Jon, Holly & myself took an outdoor table, a bit risky with the blustery weather (it had hailed on the roof just an hour before) but it proved to be enjoyable.

Back at the venue, it was practically showtime, and Holly was on first. She did a short set to start the evening. Then, we had Andy Shauf. Holly turned me on to his music, Andy’s album, “The Bearer of Bad News” is a bedroom masterpiece; he plays, evidently, every note of music on it. Drums, pianos, woodwinds, strings…it’s downbeat troubadour music, if Beirut was less klezmer, perhaps, and slow core. Wonderful album. He came with a band, he plays electric guitar, he has a bass player — they both play 60s Japanese instruments and get mind blowing tones from them. The keyboard player plays a Rhodes and a little Casio on top of that, and, occasionally, plays some guitar. And then there’s a drummer. When their stuff came up the elevator, all that gear plus boxes of vinyl, I remarked it looked like Metallica was about to build their set. Musically, this is anti-Metallica of course. The live set is really wonderful, exquisitely played.

OK, our turn…the place was packed, it had been a long time since a club I played was so packed that I was sweating just by being there. We played an excellent set; the sound onstage was a bit muddy and thick which is consistent with such a low ceiling’ed room. People responded to the set, tho, it should be noted we got no encore– i think after two hours of playing everyone was ready, on a Wednesday no less, to get the hell out of that sweaty room. We pulled out all the stops in the set, too– we had Andy’s bassist Josh and drummer Ian play a very plunky, Broken Social Scene meets Zumpano version of “Flavor of the Month”, and we had Holly sing “Licenses to Hide”. Like, what other surprises were in store?? None!

At the merch table, I had to endure the usual lecture from the odd person who didn’t like our new direction. They have a problem with the fact we have no drummer — which of course, never happens when we play just an acoustic duo show. One guy, who bought no less than three CDs from the merch table, said he’d seen Thurston Moore play the same way, with a drum machine. He claimed that if we kept playing this way, we’d be playing to 5 people in a few years. I can see, with my own eyes, that the opposite is true — if we keep playing to the nostalgia of our mid 90s success, with the conventional rock band, we will play to ever smaller audiences; we’ll never expand without changing the sound. Again…see also: Bob Dylan. He disgusted much of his hardcore audience when he went electric and ‘sold out’ to modern sounds. 25 million records later, I think we all agree, his choice was sound (pun INTENDED). We will def lose some folks if we continue to explore this modern, electronic path. Even if we add a drummer, which I think would be fun anyway. But we’ll never gain a single new fan playing our 90s catalogue in a 90s fashion. Even Blood/Candy, which I think is a “classic” Posies album, which we worked very hard on, and I think should have absolutely touched our traditional base — nice mix of guitars and psychedelia, clever word play, etc…only saw our sales and live base shrink. We cannot, must not, play to the base. We need to expand the base. And anyway, this is not just about marketing strategy. I am an artist, first and foremost. I only look forward, and as an artist, it’s part of the process to kill your darlings. You need to shed skin to grow.

It’s not all bad news after these shows, but what we’re doing is different than before, some people have a problem with it, they are looking for what they know, and we’re not giving it to them (despite playing all our best known songs) the way they expect it. A painter explores. A filmmaker explores. Some (Woody Allen) make variations on a theme, more or less. Some (Kubrick) appear in different guises from film to film. I like artists who offer me surprises, stylistic twists. Pynchon appears in different voices from book to book. A true master of their craft can be fluent in several styles, and that is my aspiration.

OPWIJK, 5/7

The next morning, my cold was at its worst. Ugh. The less I spoke the better. I slept in rather than having breakfast, and took lunch with Holly somewhere in the cute center of Hasselt. Asparagus, in season. Our friend Willeke, whom we’ve known for years, wanted to come to tonite’s show, and the route from her home to Opwijk has Hasselt in the middle of it. She offered us a ride. Having four children, she has a big enough rig to take the three of us and our gear. At 1.30 that afternoon, she rolled up to the hotel, we loaded up and hit the road. After leaving the ring road around Brussels, we were on rural roads between villages. At one such village, we could see ahead two of the shiniest, slickest, blackest Audi sedans you’ve ever seen. Each with a little blue light on top. As we approached, we had to turn on the corner they were hanging out at, and a very well-tailored man emerged from a shop on the corner…Willeke exclaimed: “it’s the king!” And indeed it was. As we watched, he got into one of the cars, the blue lights started flashing, and the two sedans, with a police motorcycle behind, took off towards Brussels. What he was doing in that tiny village, we can only imagine. Maybe he likes to go to tiny villages to actually enjoy the freedom to enter a shop (and give the shopkeeper a heart attack) without being mobbed.

we rolled on thru a few more villages, and the GPS led us to an indistinct spot in a hamlet of small farms. There was an auto garage, and we asked them the location of the B&B we were staying in–in fact, there was the van owned by the B&B, up on the rack, missing a wheel. We were about 50 yards from the place, the GPS just not privy to the intimacy of this very rural spot. We pulled up to the place, De Kleine Deugd, and were greeted by Wendy, the owner. She runs quite a place, in her 120 year old house. She raises horses (incl a very handsome show horse called Chocolate Genius) and on the weekends runs a pub in a kind of semi-outdoor construction, clear plastic material in place of walls. Like a wedding tent, with booze. People ride trails in the area, and tie up their horses and have beers. They even have live music when the weather’s nice. They used to have the pub inside the house but it outgrew their dedicated room, now some 400 people pack the place every weekend afternoon. And, they run a B&B, it’s the upstairs of the front of the house, three little rooms with a common dining area. Perfect! She gave us a key and we headed for Opwijk central. In the center of this small town is a lovely venue, the Nijdrop (a contraction of the the first two letters of three villages in the area. It’s been a youth center since the 60s; the current location is a couple years old, they had a smaller facility in the past. Nice big stage. We set up sound checked, and I went to sleep on the dressing room couch. Woke up to eat a lovely meal, and went back to sleep til just before show time. Put in my contacts, brushed my teeth, I could hear Holly entertaining the crowd. An amazing crowd for this show, the place was packed. Sadly, as much as took my zinc pills and drank the ginger/honey/lemon brews Holly kindly made for me, my voice was really ragged. I announced as such before the show, along with the usual caveats — we’re trying out our new songs, we’re using the laptop to augment the usual acoustic duo show, etc. The first song, Throwaway, was tough. I’d taken one of my emergency meds, a Rhinadvil, a very potent over-the-counter cold med only available in France. It kicked in about a third of the way in to the show, and my voice opened up. Thank god! The new songs are easy to sing, written for a 46-year-old’s range; some of our older material is quite challenging to sing but soon I was cruising. I felt tired and I was sweating, but I tried to make things as natural as possible. We do a few songs as a duo, introduce the laptop and the new material for a few songs, resume playing as a duo for a bit, return to the laptop for more new songs and some catalogue material. We got a nice encore; in general the crowd was very mellow during the show and shyly demonstrative, but at the end, they showed us a great amount of appreciation. I know we did “Licenses” with Holly. I know there’s epic versions of “Burn & Shine” and “Coming Right Along” towards the end. It’s a blur! But a good one. Yes, a few people pointed out how we were supposed to have a drummer, blah blah. I politely agreed. Anyway, next time we’ll probably have one. Do I have to point out the artists who appear with different groups each tour — Beck tours solo, with his traditional band, with the Flaming Lips; Neil Young tours solo, with Crazy Horse, with the Stray Gators, etc… guys, we’re just like any other artist. We try different things, over the…30 years of being a band, it’s not going to be the same flavor year after year. We’re not Denny’s. We’re artists.

We had wonderful sleep at the B&B, and I woke up feeling not as sick as the morning before. We had wonderful pastries. In Opwijk there are vending machines around the rural areas and in town that sell staples — bread, dairy products, potatoes…incredible! Jon said they have the same where he lives in the outskirts of Paris. I’ve never seen it before. What a great idea!

We stuffed ourselves and our gear into Wendy’s loaner Volvo, and she drove us to the tiny Opwijk station. May 8 is VE day in most of Europe. Opwijk felt like a Sunday, maybe it always does. Brussels too. It’s a long weekend, so Paris was empty. Indeed, traveling thru Belgium’s fields, I have to say that my stepdad, Dewey, who turned 90 last month, passed thru here 70 years ago. He doesn’t discuss his wartime activities much, it’s a pity, as the stories will go with him. A humble infantry support truck driver, we’re proud of our Greatest Generation hero.

We had a very modern, nearly empty train to Brussels. We’d planned on taking a later one, but found ourselves at the station with earlier options, so we took the first one, tho it came with a different destination marked on its signage. Seemed to include Brussels in its list of stops, but on the board at the station it should have been a Brussels-only bound train. Once on board, it was only showing the next few stops, but a passenger confirmed it was Brussels bound, and soon, the signage did too. At Brussels Midi station, being a gold card holder for the Thalys, I had the right to use the lounge with a guest (Holly) and Jon, being a silver card holder, had the right to use the lounge too. We took advantage of the clean-sh bathrooms and free wifi and soon it was time for me to get on my train home. I had the perfect work for a travel day: I had to run off stems for the Phantom Sound album, so Marisa can potentially do shows with a laptop like we’re doing w the Posies, bandmates being hard to pin down at times. For this I don’t need to be in my studio, and I don’t need to record new stuff, it’s more like overseeing the baking of a cake. Once it’s in the oven, it just…bakes. You take it out when its done. Simple as that. Believe it or not, this is not that different. I just had to organize, prepare, and let ’em run. 5 stems per song, for 12 songs, except one song has a tempo change so the stems are in two parts. I could do this on the train, and at the flat at home. I checked to make sure they were all working, and also, the big job, load them all in to a session to look at the levels from part to part, song to song — the mixes might have louder or softer drums, bass etc, but for live, they should be as similar in level as possible. By about 11 that night I was leveling and re-exporting the stems with new levels. In the meantime, Dom & I could take lunch together, and dinner together, for a rare night out in Paris. On Saturday, I slept in til about 9, and felt much better, my cold was heading away. The stems resulted in over 1.5Gb of material, so that was a 5-hour upload, with our ridiculously slow ADSL internet. So, nothing to do but get out in the sunshine. We went to look at my flat, formerly my studio, which we’re renovating. We went to our favorite bio grocery and had lunch at their restaurant. I ran a few errands in the neighborhood, ran into some familiar neighbors. Also, after 12 years in the flat, we’ve acquired a ton of stuff, but being in Tours most of the time we don’t have the time to deal with it. Old clothes of Aden’s, toys she doesn’t play with, DVDs, kitchen stuff we don’t use…we are in the Ebay equivalent of D-Day. I carried stuff out to the charity shop. We even took our traditional TV down to the street; technically, the city will recycle it, but it will be snatched up way before they come along. We prepared shitloads of toys and other items for the ‘vide grenier’ that’s coming up at the end of the month, a neighborhood-wide garage sale, you set up your table at length of sidewalk you rent from the city, and sell what you can. Aden’s very intrigued by the business of selling toys to get newer toys, clothes, etc.

The upload done, I could start my work for the day, I’m starting to mix Mimi Schell‘s album. I needed to work on a song that needed no additional recording, so I worked on a song that was ‘RTM’. I got the mix close enough that it will be easy to finalize today. We ate at home, and by 9pm I was done with the mix for now. We could hang out as a family, even tho Dom & Aden were still organizing and sorting stuff in her room, I parked on the couch with a glass of wine. Went to bed early. This morning we had breakfast on a terrace, packed up tons of stuff, and hauled ourselves to the train station for our train back to Tours. School starts again tomoro, Aden’s been on spring break for two weeks. In the morning I had time to listen to a couple of good records — Klifton Filente’s “Common Ground” and D. R. Hooker’s 70s Jesus Freak rock album “The Truth”. I feel much better and am looking forward to mixing Mimi’s & Arno’s music this week, and performing the Posies’ new material in Brighton on Friday…

Love
KS
train to St. Pierre des Corps

EVERYTHING THAT IS IS NEW

I stayed in Paris Saturday night with the family, then on Sunday morning, after brunch on a soggy Paris morning, I headed to Tours, I had a huge amount of work to do. I spent two days, one of them with the heaviest rain I’ve seen in years, I had to stop working for awhile just to listen to it. My girls were in Paris, so I had the house to myself, this was good because I needed to spread out. I took over the dining table, with laptop, Ableton controller, interface…I had three tasks to complete: program the laptop accompaniment to the Posies upcoming shows; definitively learn the Elliott Smith songs for the upcoming show at Bourges; upload the mixes of The Phantom Sound‘s album to the mastering engineer’s FTP site. They requested multiple mono files instead of stereo files, so it took some time to export all that, and then upload on our super slow hamster-powered French internet. The Elliott Smith song I’d been practicing since March, but I really went thru them thoroughly over these days. And the Posies songs…well.

So, I’ve been very mysterious about the recording process, on purpose I’ve not been blogging about it. I wanted to keep those experiences for ourselves, and let an air of mystique develop over the sessions. In this day and age, it’s not the preferred strategy, but it was part of my artistic process to keep a lid on things…more like Jack White, say, than…how most bands operate. But the door is open now, as the songs have been performed.

A few words about what I feel the Posies are, and how our relationship and self identification might differ from your relationship with us, and the identity you have assigned to us. The band began in 1987 as a project with Jon and myself. We already shared a few years of history together playing in different bands and experimenting with all kinds of music in Jon’s incredible home studio in Bellingham. Being the 1980s, it was a great age for studio trickery and technique and using the studio as an instrument; but what interested us the most was song craft. I loved the power of punk rock, but the power of a great composition–its ability to survive any kind of musical framework and retain its intention, that intrigued us both. We wanted to write songs that could be played on just two acoustic guitars, or with a band, or …hell, anything–an orchestra, a sequencer…and you’d be able to recognize the song. An anti Milli Vanilli, if you will. That was the era of the Posies. Milli Vanilli, hair metal, etc…where attitude, production seemed to be the first priority over meaningful songwriting. The Northwest alternative scene was growing and healthy, but it had a fixation with scuzz and beer and …well, punk attitude. It’s not like Soundgarden, Green River, et al were great songwriters yet. Notably, Soundgarden would end up sounding like a hard rock Beatles by the time of their peak, and would put a great deal of effort into songwriting. But at this time, it was about the primal scream…too much compositional framework would be too brainy for the scene. We were looking way beyond this…we liked our contemporaries, but we liked…well, great music from any era. Like how it’s cool to be an expert on former musical styles (Mark Ronson, anyone?) we were like that … then. We still are… we are just…way beyond just recreating old styles, we like to make music that’s individual and unique. It’s a choice, and we don’t judge others if they want to do a Mark Ronson (esp. if turns out like this).

Getting back to the history, we made Failure, as a duo. We played shows as a duo. We had bass and drums on the album (played by myself Jon, respectively) and we had imagined having players join us, but no one was interested. Then by some kind of cosmic absurdity, we had a radio hit. Then another…in like 2 weeks. Suddenly, we had shows, we had press, and we met two great musicians who lived a block away from me in Seattle. Jon moved down, and we started to promote Failure. The Posies were a band, but we were also a songwriting duo. We were too eager to please, and also too busy to really spell things out; Failure was our album. The band got signed, and the next album was made by the band, and it belonged to the band (we wrote all the songs, tho–we were at least clear about that). Folks, we were 20 years old (Jon 19) when we got signed. There was a lot to take on, a lot to comprehend. Anyway, by the 2000s, after splitting up, it should be clear that the band was Jon & I, and also Jon & I with Darius & Matt, our third rhythm section since the band started. And then in recent years, we’ve been going back and playing our old music with the rhythm sections from the 90s– Dave Fox & Mike Musburger, Joe Skyward & Brian Young. We even mixed and matched — our last Seattle show had Darius on drums and Dave on bass. So…what’s the band? The songs, are what stay. People are attached to the players, and then they chance, and then its OK. Beyond a one off show I did on NYE in 1993 w/o Jon, who had other plans, I would never do a show called the Posies without Jon, but I fully believe that when Jon & I play, it’s the Posies, with no one else there. We have had some great shows, as a duo (Utrecht in December, anyone?). In fact, I love playing with the rhythm sections, but not 100% of the time — the duo shows allow more subtlety in the guitar playing, the singing and puts the focus on the songs; the band inevitably becomes something like Who, or a punk band. The choruses are there, the songs are still there, too…but it’s not subtle, and I think the vocals suffer a bit. Anyway, the fact of the matter is, we’ve been playing these kind of full band, rock shows, with little change except writing some new songs and adding a little more keyboard. Meanwhile, my solo evolution has really developed with a certain kind of minimalism. I have done some mega shows, like my live album. But the intimacy of the solo performance is where I feel I have the most freedom.

So, the Posies duo shows actually feel more free for me, than the band shows. We can make a more spontaneous set list, a broader set list, and I feel the music can be heard more clearly. Any loud band can be a loud band. Not every band can have great songs, or at least bothers to take the care to have the standards to write them. And the duo performances, I think, are special for how they let the songs shine thru.

So, that’s the context for what we’re doing with this album and the shows we’re doing right now. With the album, tho, we’re so proud of what we’ve recorded, we want that shared too…so, we’ve got Ableton Live running alongside us for the songs. Then we thought it would be fun to try some old songs with some programming too, give them a new twist. We can always play songs just the two of us, but this is a new way to do it, it’s inspiring for us. In the set we can choose to play songs w/ or w/o accompaniment. I’m very proud of the new arrangements. Sometimes they are serious, sometimes they are sacrilegious. They are playful, musical, inventive. What they are, for sure… what this, playing with the laptop thing is, is different. Different is equatable with new. And new, untried, challenges. I live for these moments– too much running on the treadmill of familiarity and it has the reverse effect of a gym’s treadmill–I will start to show excess spiritual flab. Many bands make a fine career playing the oldies circuit. They play cruises and casinos, family-friendly shows in the park on Sundays. It’s all fine, and would be one way to age gracefully. I’m just not…I’m too used to doing what I love, which is creating. Playing the songs we’ve written, I’ve written, over the years, is wonderful, an honor, the songs that still touch something in me I’m happy to perform as many times as they carry the effect. But I continue to write, continue to move forward. I only reminisce when asked to. Most days I’m staring ahead at the blank canvas. Waiting for the future to tell me what it needs from me.

On Tuesday morning, the cab came at something like 7am. I’d managed to get a decent nights’ sleep. It was a gorgeous morning. I got to the station in Tours, took the short hop to St. Pierre, and then was on one of those old fashioned TER’s on my way to Angers. I felt good, relaxed, rested, and prepared. In picturesque Angers, Yann picked met me at the station, and we loaded my gear into his car, and went to the very unpicturesque industrial park which houses the former slaughterhouse, now a music venue, theater and rehearsal complex known as the Chabada. It wasn’t even 10am yet. I hunkered down in a dressing room while the musicians and crew arrived. It’s a big project, the Elliott Smith project known as the “Color Bars Experience”. Yann and arranger Christophe conceived the project. Yann works as the administrator for the local symphony orchestra. Basically, they’ve taken Elliott Smith’s “Figure 8” album, and arranged all the songs for a small orchestral group. There’s a string quartet (Yann’s wife is the principal violinist); a percussionist playing vibes, glockenspiel, hand percussion and orchestral chimes; upright bass; French horn (yes, it’s just ‘horn’ to French people); bassoon; flute; a guitarist playing electric & acoustic guitar as well as an 8 string ukelele; a drummer, and Jamie, front person of local bands in Angers, singing backgrounds. We have a sound engineer, lighting tech, a couple of other general crew members. A monitor engineer for the rehearsals. The room we rehearsed in was like a small theatre space, it wasn’t like a grungy band rehearsal room. The stage decor was in place. In front of the place where the musicians were assembled were a couple of couches and chairs. It was generally quite dark in the room so it would be like the show, the ‘stage’ was lit like it would be in Bourges. This was the second day of rehearsals, they’d already spent a day with the other two singers– Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, and Troy von Balthazar. So, we soon dove in to my songs; we were each singing 4-5 numbers. I felt very good. The run thru’s were quite good, there were a few small musical or performance issues, either mine, or the ensembles, but really, the vibe was there. We ran thru all the songs a few times, and broke for lunch, which was served in the bar of the venue.

Then back to it, we did two full run thru’s of the program with all the singers. They fine tuned things, and did run thrus of the songs I sing but sung by the other singers, for the upcoming broadcast on French radio (I was invited but already booked to play with the Posies that weekend). We all felt wonderful, really. By about 6pm we were cracking open beers and having an apero; Then, we stuffed all the stuff and people into various vehicles and dropped us off at the hotel, so we could dump bags/gear. And immediately head out to eat! Dinner tonite was at the townhouse, maintained by the orchestra for visiting soloists, in the center of town. Several of the ensemble were staying there. We went en masse to the Monoprix, bought groceries, and the French folk fell in to the role of cooking. There were salads, spreads, cheeses, saucisson, wine. There were quite a few of us. I spent most of the evening speaking with Jamie about his band, and also with the violist about 20th century music. Then it was time to get some rest. Well, almost; Jason, Jaime and I had a last beer (no wine to be had) at an Irish pub on the way back to the hotel. Still, I was in bed at a decent hour.

BOURGES, 4/29

Up the next morning, I think we were on the road in a caravan of cars, by 9.30. No breakfast at the hotel, but I had a croissant on the way, fresh out of the oven…at the gas station. There was a lot of luggage, instruments and humans to move. I was stuffed into guitarist Bert’s car, w two more musicians, and a ton of stuff. I myself slept on the drive, trying to avoid speaking too much, wanting my voice to rest. We arrived to Bourges, to the hotel; it was too early to check in, but we could drop bags. I dropped my suitcase and guitar, just in the lobby bar. I’d never be that trusting in Paris, but Bourges is pretty mellow. Then we had shuttle vans to take us to the venue, the Auditorium of Bourges, a modern theatre with very steep seating, for about 300 people. It means that even the back row is not too far from the stage. I claimed my dressing room (there were two rooms for the three singers, obv. mine was going to get crowded soon, as you’ll see), then we went to catering for lunch. The Printemps de Bourges Festival has been running for a long time. In more recent years they’ve lowered the international content and nowadays book primarily French artists. There are several venues around the city that host shows, and then a lot of informal, outside the program shows that happen in bars that week. All of Paris’ movers and shakers come, and in fact, much of Paris comes — it’s spring break, after all. Dominique worked for the festival for many years, doing for the big venue what our friend Alan was doing for this venue–overseeing the backstage.

As the stage was being set up for soundcheck, two VIPs arrived to the backstage: Dom & Aden. They came from Paris. Of course, this was old home week for Dom. Aden arrived, on skateboard, and proceeded to attack the small bowl of candy bars in the dressing room.

After the soundcheck was done for the instruments, we ran thru my songs, at least the first minute of each of them. There was a great deal of energy in the room, already, even with an empty theatre, our own focus and intensity was creating a real psychic wave. After the soundcheck, we had press. I did an interview with the French national radio, in French no less, and then, no less, translated for Troy & Jason’s interview. Then, a team from France 2 Television set up in my room and I did an interview with them, in French. Jason & Troy did individual interviews with them in English. Then it was getting close to showtime– the venue opened at 6pm with music getting underway not much later. I found Franky Stein, with whom I’d played in Toulouse the month before, out front, and gave him a ticket. He’s originally from Bourges.

I was so fidgety, nothing to do but pace, make endless cups of hot water with fresh ginger, pee a thousand times. I couldn’t really stay in one place, so I could barely watch Black Ya Ya, our support, which is a duo fronted by the singer of Herman Dune. Very simple songs, and he delivered the last part of his set sans PA (sound familiar?). Then it was time. My god. I was…pretty nervous. None of us–Troy, Jason, myself — trusted our memories when our nerves were this edgy. Thank god we had a music stand out front. We all used cheat sheets, even tho I didn’t really need to look at them, at times, I was so focused that my memory actually fell away from the superconscious moment…it was good to have them there as something to pull me back to the context around the moment. Troy even still managed to get lost in one song, with the lyrics out there with him. Well. I made no errors, and I drew up sensation and power from a very deep place. The first song was “Son of Sam” which needs a powerful delivery, and I felt it, 100%. (Here’s some video of the performance) Followed by “Easy Way Out” which is a heartbreaking number demanding both sensitivity but certain crescendos over the music. Then, “Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud” which starts with something low but climaxes with a very challenging chorus, that breaks in to falsetto. This was one of those performances that I was so into it, I don’t remember it, barely. I was in pure moment. No showbiz, just feeling. I wasn’t there to entertain. I was there to transmit. It’s very powerful when it works. I’d actually forgotten to put my earplugs in for this first set, so I just ran with it. It wasn’t super loud on the stage, by any means, the drums and guitars were not that loud plus they were far. Still…an adjustment.

Then Troy and Jason did performances. I was so fidgety, I could hardly watch, and, from the chairs in the wings where we could wait to go on, I could barely hear. I kept refilling my ginger water and peeing. Dom & Aden were in the audience. I returned for my next songs: “In the Lost & Found” and “Stupidity Tries”. The count in for “Stupidity Tries” is quite tricky, but I had Bert to guide me, he mouthed the count for each bar in the intro. These were great performances, I felt more at home now, a little less scared. Still intense, but I could own it a bit more. Earplugs were in too. Then, Troy and I joined Jason, he sang lead and we sang backups, on “Can’t Make A Sound”. The audience’s response to the show, overwhelming. There’s a last song that Jason sings as an encore. He couldn’t even finish it, he broke in to tears before it was over, and left the stage. As you can imagine, the effect rippled thru the audience. Many people had been in tears for most of the performance, according to Dom. The ovation lasted several minutes. We took our bows. And then it was done. Everyone played marvelously, I have to commend the ensemble, the singers…

All this on an empty stomach, too. We packed up the dressing room and moved our belongings to the production office. Then we all went to catering. The emotional impact of the show, plus the release of tension from the build up of intensity, plus the lack of food since hours before…the wine went to my head, for sure. I was quickly wobbly but we were stuck there for hours while we waited our pre-arranged pickup to get us all back to the hotel. We did make it eventually, and I crashed.

ROUEN, 4/30

Up the next morning, we had breakfast and one by one tried out the insane jacuzzi tub in the room. We gathered in the lobby and I saw shuttles taking people away, one by one. Dom, Aden & I had our own van to get to the train station. As you can imagine, Bourges is a small station, and as you can imagine, the day after the last day of the festival, the station is overwhelmed by Parisians. In fact, they had controllers on the way to the train. The train was sold out; Dom & Aden had standing room only tickets. But, Troy, who was supposed to be on the train with us, ended up riding with the documentary crew that’s making a film about him, all the way to Rouen. So, there was *one* empty seat, next to me…we squeezed the three of us into the two seats. We all slept, stuffed like mice in a nest. Got to Paris, and I didn’t have much time to make my train to Rouen. So, I caught one cab, they caught another (you can walk from Austerlitz to our flat, but it was pouring rain). Got to St. Lazare, and made my train, these little regional trains are quite comfortable. It’s not a long ride to Rouen. At the station, one of the promoters, Freddy, met me, then the other, Thierry, came and picked me up in his car. We popped by the hotel so I could freshen up, then we went to the venue, Le Kalif. I thought the name was some kind of Moroccan thing but it turns out the business that was in the same spot before was called “Le Kalifornien” as in, a dude like me. It’s a rehearsal complex with a central bar where you can do shows–there’s no stage but there’s a kind of natural layout to the room. While Troy sound checked I zonked out on the couch. I was totally drained by the Bourges performance. In fact, I had no idea where I was going to get the energy to do a solo set. My head was so not in that music. Originally, Jingo, a band from London, was going to open the show. But Troy didn’t want to follow a band, and being the headliner it was his call. So, they were to go on last. But, they were coming to town as if they were still first on — meaning, under normal circumstances, they would soundcheck last. Troy sound checked first, then I did, but instead of what could happen if I was indeed opening– I could leave all my stuff set up, I had to pack it up, then Jingo arrived, sound checked, and had to tear their whole set up down, and I put mine back together. Also, this meant I would be going on much earlier, perhaps to an empty room. That wasn’t really going to fly so I negotiated that I could start as late as I want. We were expecting a good crowd but it wasn’t sure they would be punctual. In fact, I went on at about 8.40, instead of 8. By then there was actually a really good crowd. OK, here we go. Ahem. You know what? It was great. I think, the emotions that were brought up by the Elliott performance were still carrying over…I found some pretty deep stuff. And it was a great audience, they really loved the intimacy of the performance. Thierry is a fan of “Touched” so I honored that notion with a very good performance of “Find Yourself Alone”. I don’t know how long I played, as usual I just played what I felt until I felt it was time to stop, no one told me to stop any sooner. I closed out with a version of “September Gurls”, there was a guy there who mentioned he was a real fan of Big Star.

For the duet, I have to admit, I hadn’t thought about it. Usually, I either know someone who will be at the show, or I contact the support, or I contact the promoter…but my mind was so deep into the Elliott Smith and Posies shows I hadn’t done that. So, perhaps the singer of Jingo (see below) could have done it, but as she wasn’t at soundcheck, who knows. However, as I was struck with the realization that I’d totally forgotten about the duet, I heard part of the team making Troy’s documentary,

Troy hadn’t played a show in 2 years. I have no idea how he survives, he seems to live on air, between residences in Berlin and L.A.. He’s a mysterious individual in many ways. He speaks simply, I think sometimes he speaks platitudinally, shall we say; I think to make things peaceful and clear he refrains from indulging in too much complexity. Musically he is a minimalist, just playing guitar and accompanying himself via various loops that he makes on the guitar with different pedals (he ingeniously does fade outs, too, with a volume pedal). His voice is a kind of moaning, crying, sometimes it’s hard to pick out words but the effect is very compelling. He blends into the music, and you’re forced to try and approach him to get more out of it. People loved it, that’s for sure.

Jingo are an energetic four piece, fronted by Katie, an American singer/keyboardist from Brooklyn, with her Londoner husband Jack on guitar, and a rhythm section. I had a great time watching them, they have great spirit, she bounces around like she’s standing on hot coals. There’s some quite haunting moments where she sings thru a harmonizer, it’s kind of reminiscent of “Hide And Seek” by Imogen Heap. They were super nice folks.

We had fun talking after the show, guzzling cheap (well, we’re in the band, it’s FREE) wine. Great people there that night. And then it had to end. Bedtime.

BERGEN OP ZOOM, 5/1

Up and showered and shaved, and dropped by Freddy at the train station. Rouen’s train station is darling, an art nouveau gem; too bad they’re going to abandon it for a new thing on the other side of town. Oh well. Got on my train to Paris, working on the latest versions of the Posies live set, Jon was sending me updated stems, etc. Got to Paris and tried to work my way out of Gare St. Lazare, always a problem. If you follow the signs that indicate the exit towards the Taxi rank, you end up in the basement. Eventually you just have to get out of the building, somehow (it’s not only a train station, but a pretty big shopping mall) and realize they aren’t going to make it easy. So, I got out, to the main square. No taxis. With some walking around (with bags, guitar etc) I saw the taxi rank…way up the block, in front of the Hilton Hotel. The entire block has construction barriers guiding you on a winding path, you have to run that maze, and finally, you are rewarded with a taxi. Just barely–as the construction eats of the sidewalk and this pedestrian passage eats up a lane of traffic, the taxis are technically queuing in another lane of traffic. Just as I got in mine, the police came to give tickets to all the other cabs waiting and drive them off. Anyway, I got home and got to spend an hour or so with Dom & Aden before getting another cab, and heading to my train to Antwerp, where I met up with Jon. We hopped out at Antwerp, and our train to Roosendaal came on the same track; in Roosendaal our train to Bergen Op Zoom came on the same track but 75 yards further up; all this I already experienced on my way to record with Nicole Bianchet a couple of months ago. At Bergen Op Zoom we were met at the train station by a very happy young lady from the venue, who drove us and all our crap to the venue. By us, I mean, Jon, myself and Holly, who appeared right on time.

This was show number one of the Posies new format with new songs. Cees, the engineer worked with us to get the stage built and sound going, but our stems were just too different in volume to work with. So, luckily, the venue, Gebouw-T, has a studio inside. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the studio where I do believe Nicole Bianchet’s first album, that I mixed, was recorded. Anyway, Jon & I sweated it out, re-leveling all our stems for about an hour. This worked much better. We didn’t really know how the whole thing was supposed to sound, and I think Cees approached it like it should be a full rock show, that the stems were a replacement for a band, in a sense, so it was loud.

So, with the show, we just launched into it. No explanation. The crowd had already had a long night of music — good, but long, we had two opening bands. And they were not ready for what we were delivering. It definitely freaked people out, and it probably didn’t help that the venue used pictures of the band with Matt & Darius, when I sent ahead promo photos of just Jon & I, and explained to all that this was a duo + electronics show. This was not advertised, which is too bad. I guess people were disappointed. Which is kind of shocking, in a way, too — normally when a band comes to try their new material in your small city, you say “thanks!”. Even if it’s a little rough around the edges. But, it’s true, we were not seaworthy, and the show probably resembled a rehearsal more than a show… the local media website gave us a negative, not mean, tho, review, just saying…what we did didn’t work. And it didn’t, yet, so I can’t fault them. But we weren’t giving up so easily.

We did have a great highlight of the show — singing “Licenses to Hide” with Holly *and* Eva Auad, who’s INCREDIBLE ALBUM IS OUT NOW!!!! It came out that day. Folks, this album is the best production work I’ve done, hands down. She is an incredible talent, singing, playing piano, and writing her songs. I don’t have any adjectives that would do this record justice. It’s complete, beautiful. We worked hard, argued, struggled, re-edited…it was cared for, to infinite degrees. Please go listen NOW.

Hey, even tho our show was not really crowded, and what crowd wasn’t really into it, the people at the venue were super nice to us. They took on a big risk with us, and were completely pro when it didn’t exactly win awards. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

ZEIST, 5/2

After breakfast and checking out, we walked to the station, which was across the street, and ate bad sausage rolls, and the handle on my guitar case broke again, and we laughed. Holly is a great person to have on tour, she didn’t let us doubt ourselves for one minute. And you know, even tho I knew the show didn’t work, I didn’t think for one minute it *wouldn’t* work. Remember, we never had time to rehearse, it took so long to make the stems plus all the other stuff we have going on.

We changed trains in Rotterdam, Utrecht, and made it to Zeist. Another smiley club worker, Anouk, picked us up, and drove us to De Peppel. De Peppel is much smaller and less fancy than Gebouw-T, it might have been nice to start here, in this more modest place. Anyway, we were armed with the experience of the day before and Eric, the sound engineer here (Anouk does monitors) worked really hard to help us get a great sound. The key has been to progressively bring the tracks down to a level that complements the duo on electric guitars…you shouldn’t have to turn us up to hear us over the tracks, they should be a shimmer of sound around us; we’re not trying to replace a full band with tracks; we’re trying to augment a duo. We did more songs just as a duo and did a bit more explaining about it. People responded better today for the most part, but, one guy was actually rude. The re-imagined version of Please Return It, which I think sounds like Beach House, ended and he actually said “the arrangement sucks!” I said that was a really stupid thing to say, and rude, and to just listen to what we’re doing before making judgments about things. It’s new, so… he said he was a fan wanted ‘rock & roll’. I said, if you’re really our fan, you know we’ve never been a conventional rock band. It bummed me out, for like, two minutes. But, I knew it was better tonite. We were getting there. Holly did a set opening the show, and a wild band from Amsterdam called Orange Maplewood played in the middle, and loaned me their pedals. Mine were…not available! Uh, in France. So, Black Horse Society loaned theirs in Bergen Op Zoom, and I got Jordy’s pedals tonite, he had some wild stuff, so it was fun. Mathijs, our friend who used to be in the Gasoline Brothers who opened many a Posies show, was on hand, he was supportive of the new direction but not w/o some critiques, but it’s all about the delivery, and also, you have to give a hoot about a person’s opinion. The loud guy, I don’t care what he thinks. Mathijs, I’ll definitely listen. He gave us a ride to the hotel, too!

The venue had checked us in and delivered keys; no one was at reception when we arrived. And they gave us the wrong keys. Jon’s worked; Holly’s worked; mine did not…we all tried. We had the room number, but not the right keys. Hmmm. I was so tired. So: Holly took a mattress off her bed, on the floor I went.

HOORN, 5/3

In the morning, breakfast was over. Check out was 11, we discovered, and it was getting close. Holly cleaned up and left. I cleaned up and left. We had breakfast and lunch at a cafe across the street. Not much going on in Zeist on Sunday morning. Holly & I can joke and riff for hours. The cafe had nothing for breakfast, they didn’t serve food before 12. Except, they had homemade apple pie. Which we had. For breakfast.

Jon emerged, and joined us, all three of us riffing, it’s like a Mighty Boosh episode when we get going. Note: the hotel was partially under reconstruction…the main restaurant smelled like burning wood, saws grinding etc. Even from the safe distance of the cafe it was unnerving. We had the cafe call us a cab, and we got the hell out of there. Trained to the Schiphol, and caught a little train to Hoorn’s “Kersenboogered” station. That became a riff. “Dude, I got, like…*KERS*enboogered with the guys last night at that tequila bar.”

So, I picked that station as it was quite a bit closer to the club than Hoorn’s main station. It’s the end of the line. We got off, the station was tiny, and deserted. Rain was pissing down everywhere. How do you get out? The turnstiles were automated and we don’t have transport chip cards. Turns out, you can scan the QC code on your paper ticket…*if* you clean off the glass window on the turnstile machine, which til then was coated in rain drops. Got out of the place. Nothing. Just residential streets. A few teenagers drinking red bulls by the ticket machine. Bad vibe. We walked back under the tracks and emerged in a town square with mostly closed businesses. Holly negotiated with people to use their phones and we got a cab to come, but it took 20 minutes. In the rain. Ugh. But we were laughing with the driver as soon as we got in the cab. We had to stop at a rail crossing for this 1890s passenger train to go by… surreal, we all were overjoyed. The world is absurd! RUN WITH IT.

We got to the club, which is also kind of in the middle of nowhere. It’s called Manifesto. It’s a scrappy place, with a very tall stage. Really nice people there. We felt at home. Got right in to soundcheck with Peter, the sound man, and Fati, the monitor engineer. We had last night’s show to build on, to fine tune the sound on stage and out front. They fed us chili. Let’s skip to the show.

A lot of people tonite. I think that’s good…the small crowds were real diehard fans, who apparently are attached to the era of the Posies they got to know us from — the mid 90s. We’re not in the mid 90s, so, when we brake form for the next twist, it bums them out. The bigger crowds are going to be more casual and less diehard–and less burdened with preconceived notions to disappoint.

Point is, the show was AWESOME. The energy was great. We were confident. I sang from a very deep place and poured energy into the song, whether it was a song like “Please Return It” with a backing track, or the piano “Fucking Liar”. We grooved. We joked. We took the energy up and down several times. It was a great mix of duo and electro. We engaged. We got an encore, for the first time that weekend, and that was great–Black Horse Society had learned “Flavor of the Month” and “Definite Door” and we rocked it with them. We finished up Holly singing “Licenses to Hide” with us. MAN DID THAT FEEL GOOD. KIDS, IT’S GONNA WORK.

And, Hanna Fearns was there! We adapted one of her songs for the country album, she hadn’t heard it… we played it for her back at the hotel…magic. Holly hadn’t heard Shelby Earl‘s gospel vocals on “Doesn’t It Remind You of Something”. Or Vicki Peterson‘s version of “Edelweiss”!! What a great way to go out. And of course the nicest hotel of the tour. Which meant that it would be, by Murphy’s inviolable law, the shortest stay. In bed at 1. Up at 4.45. I schlepped my stuff to the train station, just across the street, but still. My paper ticket actually opened the turnstile. Trained to the Schiphol, got the Thalys. Stopped writing this blog and slept for 2 hours. Cabbed across town from Gare du Nord to Montparnasse, the Thalys was a little late getting in but I made it.

In St. Pierre des Corps, I was met by Arno from Sweet Gum Tree a French band from near Angers. We had lunch and drove to the house, and set up and started recording…I was pretty tired but just glad I didn’t have to memorize or program something for a day…I could just…set up mics, and record. Arno’s a great player so it’s been easy. We needed some groceries tho. I recommended the Auchan near us but evidently it burned down yesterday! We went to the bio coop.

Um, we worked hard. I had a house to open up, too..laundry to do, garbage to take out. It’s all a crazy chaos. And I love it. Good night.

Love
KS
Tours.

Memphis, Memorized

On Monday, it was Dominique’s birthday, after dropping Aden at school I came back to get her breakfast in bed, and, see my bandmate off, who was still in town after working together over the weekend. I had some tasks relating to our project to do, plus pack up the studio, and help pack up the house for another flea bomb run. We were trying to eat everything in the house rather than drag stuff over to grandma’s. We made a decent dent in the supplies, and then finally at 9pm, I kissed my girls goodbye and started walking up the road, to catch the tram to the station. Always tough to leave. Tours station on a Monday night is pretty dead. There was a train heading to St. Pierre a bit earlier than the one I was booked on, so I jumped on that one instead, I think my ticket is valid for any Tours-St. Pierre shuttle, anyway, I’ve never seen the shuttle controlled. All it meant is that I was waiting on the tracks in St. Pierre as opposed to Tours, for the 30 minutes or so. Then I got on the train to Paris, slept for the hour or so of travel. I know a secret cab rank in the Paris station, but at 11.30 at night, there aren’t a hell of a lot of cabs to be had; it was a wait, but I got one. Stumbled in the door of our flat, listened to some mixes of my band and all the Phantom Sound mixes, and went to sleep.

On Tuesday I was up early, I had to go up to my bank to pick up some new checkbooks and ask about some charges on my account I didn’t understand (turns out a TV tax on one of my properties that I shouldn’t have to pay was deducted from my account, so now, I have to spend some time getting the hundred bucks back. Grr. Calculate the hourly on that one). The bank is a bit far to walk, and a bit short to take a bus– perfect for a Velib, and the weather was nice. I biked back to my hood and then it was about time to head to the airport. Amazingly I had a meeting with the manager of a band who wants to work with me in the studio, and he proposed to take me to the airport so we could speak, he had a car, so perfect. At the airport we had a coffee, and then I went thru security and on to Memphis. The flight to Atlanta was quite empty, I had a full row, and it was on Air France, so not too many movies to see, so I watched a couple (well, three) and slept a couple hours. The Air France flights leave from the M gates in Terminal 2E, which means, the newest ones, so there’s ample security points, etc, it all moves really smoothly. For once, right?

In Atlanta I passed thru immigration & security with my Global Entry status and was soon waiting at the gate for the flight to Memphis, which was a little delayed, not too bad. Jon was there, we’d been on the same flight to Atlanta, too, and had conferred a bit on business matters on the way over, but we have pretty different seat prefs so end up in opposite ends of the aircraft, usually.

In Memphis, getting in about 7.30 in the evening, we were impressed with how dead the place was. There were almost no flights coming in later than that, certainly none leaving later than that, and other than the people on our flight, less than two dozen other people, let alone passengers, in the entire airport. Memphis lost its status as a Delta hub in recent years, and since then, passenger traffic has dropped substantially. Let’s put this in perspective: Memphis is the 59th busiest passenger airport in the US, that is to say, a little less passenger traffic than, say, Albuquerque, slightly busier than…Omaha. It’s the 20th biggest city in the US–bigger than Seattle. However, Memphis airport is not hurting for business…as later, looking up in the skies around 9pm, the onslaught of FedEx incoming planes is impressive…it looks like the Berlin airlift is happening…constant approach from every conceivable direction. Memphis is by far the USA’s biggest cargo airport, 1 and a third times busier than its nearest competitor. Worldwide, only Hong Kong airport ships more cargo.

Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, came from a family of means. John Fry, the late founder of Ardent Records/Studios, producer of all of Big Star’s vintage work, was as well. In fact, the two were elite school chums and they started the label and studio together as teenagers in the 60s. Fred went on to Yale business school, where his paper outlining Federal Express’ business concept famously got a ‘C’. He’s now worth almost $4 billion and employs some 350,000 people world wide. Both Fred & John have had an immense impact on arts and culture in Memphis.

It was for this reason, Jon & I were coming to Memphis. In rapid succession, Ardent in house producer and engineer John Hampton and then John Fry died; Hampton had been battling cancer for some time, and was in his early 60s. Fry died suddenly of heart trouble, he was 69. People said that John Fry looked 35 all his life — when he was 14 and starting up several businesses, he already looked and sounded like a grown up; in his 60s he had a serious and thoughtful (he sounded uncannily like a slowed down Jimmy Stewart) demeanor but a youthful glint in his eye. However, when we were all inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame last year, just a month before Fry passed away, I was surprised at how frail he seemed. He shuffled towards the podium, gave a wonderful speech, but really was unsteady on his feet and had the carriage of someone 15 or more years older. Still, we didn’t expect it, and the one-two blow to the Memphis music scene was extremely hard on the community. Both Johns were characters, both were eccentric in their own ways, and both dedicated to the music, completely.

So, a memorial concert was organized at the Levitt Shell. A bit more history here; Overton Park, just a couple blocks from Ardent, was designed by the younger Olmstead whose father (and, also, uncle–they were the same man, a man who adopted his nephew) had designed Central Park. The Overton Park Shell was built as WPA project, and it was here in 1954 that a young “Ellis Presley” did his first professional appearance, opening for Slim Whitman. Mr. Levitt was a furniture magnate from New York who left behind an immense fortune and dedicated it via a foundation that bears his name to provide free live music in several venues around the country. So the shell was renamed and after a period of decrepitude has rebounded into being a wonderful addition to the cultural landscape of Memphis.

Memphis is a conundrum, a pile of contradictions. It’s where literally…*everything* we know about rock music and its descendants comes from…Elvis did not come from Memphis by accident; Memphis is where country and blues collided to give forth the postmodern era’s soundtrack. At one point, it was the home of a pumping hit machine in Stax records–the soundtrack of the 60s (Sam & Dave, Booker T, Otis Redding) the 70s (Isaac Hayes, Al Green) was…Memphis. Ardent was created in this rich period, and picked up work when Stax, Sam Philips, National…were full. And they were always full. Ardent itself went from a garage studio to a storefront and then in 1972 the current facility was built from the ground up–in fact, I would guess it was and may still be the only purpose-built recording studio in Memphis. Terry Manning moved in from Texas, John Fry nurtured the nascent Big Star, Jim Dickinson gravitated this way as Fame & Muscle Shoals went under, and this studio made history-making albums — Led Zeppelin III (Terry helped engineer & mix), the Replacements Pleased to Meet Me (Jim producing, John Hampton engineering & mixing), REM’s Green, The White Stripes Get Behind Me Satan (Hampton mixed), Cat Power’s The Greatest. And the three albums of Big Star’s original incarnation. And yet, in 2015, if it hadn’t been for John Fry… who helped fund and organize the Stax Museum, in the old Stax facility…well, let’s say that most of the history is appreciated after shit goes tits up. The local folks would rather have a mural or a museum than a living breathing music scene, it can appear. There’s a lot of people fighting hard to breathe life into Memphis tho. Business wise, the city is a daunting prospect. The closer you get downtown, the more abandoned, scary, run down stuff you find. And yet, you have something like FedEx here, one of the world’s biggest companies. Nashville is now the epicenter of cool, and cool means gentrifying/stupefying amounts of money. Like Nashville, Memphis has a hospital and a university downtown but the gentrification is nowhere to be found, except, at last, in Overton Square, the neighborhood just down the street from Ardent, which has undergone a major (welcome) renaissance. Still, Jon & I passed at least a couple of big hotels that we stayed in the past that are currently rotting hulks. There’s a couple of office towers that are largely empty, and for some reason…a big one is being built. It’s hard to figure out. I love Memphis, truly. I love that it’s still funky and not completely hipsterized (my cynical side says…a hipster is way more likely to be Caucasian, and generally does not want to look at any poverty, or too much ethnicity, at least that which doesn’t conform to hipster fashion guidelines… in one place… a hipster is just a yuppie w/o the 80s mainstream fashion damage. A hipster is a yuppie who looks down on more mainstream yuppies). As soon as the hipsters have control, that means…not everyone is welcome. And the prices go up beyond many people’s ability to keep up.

So it was we arrived to Ardent, and found a nice party in progress, a lot of folks were in town for the memorial. While gear was being set up for the rehearsal, we had a beer with the team from the Big Star documentary, who came to pay their respects. Then we got to work, and ran thru the set. Jody, Jon & myself. Plus the second generation of Memphis music — two gents whose dads were intrinsic parts of the scene going back to the 60s. Rick Steff, keyboardist, whose dad was a horn player for Elvis, Dusty Springfield and others, joined us on keys and cowbell. Rick plays on the upcoming Orange Humble Band album. Steve Selvidge, whose dad was a local guitarist and troubadour, joined us on guitar. Steve plays guitar in the Hold Steady, the Donkeys, and more. We set up in studio C, our buddy Adam Hill, in house engineer and archivist at Ardent, provided the gear. It was good to rehearse, but coming off the plane I was pretty fried. Still, gotta get those vocal chords used to the idea. We wrapped about 11.30 and spent some time catching up w Jody, then we went back to the hotel, checked in crashed.

MEMPHIS, 4/22

That morning, with the jet lag, I was up at 6. Breakfast at the hotel, and then I had errands to run. Stock up on gingko and a heap of locally made gluten/sugar/corn free granola from Whole Foods; wifi from the Otherlands coffee shop (the hotel wifi was awful, and I had mixes and parts from various albums to down/up load); computer stuff from Best Buy. Lunch was at the Tops BBQ by the hotel. It’s not the best in town, but time was running out. Then it was time to head to Ardent and grab the guitars/bass/cowbell, and head to the Shell. A scheduled Big Star concert at the Shell in 2010 became a memorial for Alex when he passed away two months before the show. We gotta stop meeting like this was said more than once. But still, it was a happy occasion too, as we met many friends here tonite. The music lives on, the community lives on, and we count the blessings we have by still being here, and having friends to celebrate who are still with us. Enter Dawn, the in house engineer at the Shell. She’s incredible. Outdoor venues are notoriously tricky, and the onstage sound can be a nightmare. Dawn has it down to an art & science here. We felt comfortable here and soundcheck was painless. So painless, we found ourselves sitting backstage at 3pm with nothing to do. Time to head somewhere w wifi!

We came back to the venue as things were getting underway. We ran into many friends — Pat Rainier who is part of the team at Posies/Big Star reissuing label Omnivore, as well as a great travel agent; the team from Yep Roc, who released my album Soft Commands and many other items…plus many fans and friends from all over (Canada, Alabama…). The first item was a presentation of a brass note on Beale St. for John Fry. Then, music. Tora Tora was a Memphis hard rock band signed out of Ardent and produced by John Hampton, who had a string of successful records in the late 80s/early 90s. They don’t play often these days, but they united for this event. You can hear southern rock, Led Zeppelin, 80s rock…what’s unusual is singer Anthony Cordell plays acoustic guitar, which softens the blow, gives the band an unusual texture. They sounded great, and then…the Gin Blossoms! Also produced by John Hampton. The Gin Blossoms are a band with many common fans, friends & colleagues with the Posies. They sold a helluva lot more records. We played together in 1993 at the first KROQ Weenie Roast (along with X, the Lemonheads, Suede, Rocket from the Crypt, Bettie Serveert), but as we were on at different times of the day we didn’t really hang. So, meeting them at last was overdue and already familiar. We found singer Robin Wilson warming up that afternoon and we went and rocked up the song for the show later on. They took the stage, fresh from playing a show in NY the night before and flying at 4am, and just kicked in to gear from the get go. Tight as it gets. They seem to give away a fair amount of tambourines, too. Robin has one of those voices, instantly recognizable, it sounds just like a (hit) record when he gets going.

Then, it was time for our tribute to John Fry. Now, to keep all the words in my head, and the notes in my fingers, I refrained from any preshow beer or wine. I also was worried about the dryness of the air, and was keeping things hydrated with water. But, I did too good of a job, and had to pee, like…every two minutes. And when the Gin Blossom’s finished their set, suddenly there were like 50 friends and what not backstage, so the two backstage toilets were constantly full. Argh. I pee’d like 2 minutes before going on, but just as I was walking on, I had to pee again. Oh well. At least it would keep me alert!

The night was pleasant, we’d had a close call with rain, which sprinkled a tiny bit in the afternoon. We’d had the following night held as a rain date, but it proved unnecessary. As we took the stage, there about 4000 people there, ready to listen. I really don’t know how it kicked off… “When My Baby’s Beside Me” I think? The show, being a sustained moment of pure mindfulness, really didn’t imprint in my memory. I was in a pure ‘moment’, out of time. For much of the show, it was just Jon, Jody & myself as a three piece. But, for a significant portion, Steve and Rick were with us. We also had Jim Spake join us for “Feel” on sax; Robin Wilson sang “Back of A Car” and Anthony from Tora Tora sang “Don’t Like to Me”. I’ve been back to see some videos from the evening, and I think we nailed it!

Daisy Glaze
In the Street
Way Out West

For me, the most intense part was “Look Up“, Chris Bell’s heartbreaking meditation on spirituality. I requested we do this song, I felt it related to what I knew of John Fry’s own Christian views. I did an introductory speech, and pointed out how Memphis’ music scene is often described as a family, and how we were so honored to be part of that family, and how we feel the loss of John & John as the loss of family too. I mentioned, referencing Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel, and other recent losses to Memphis music history, that, pointing up, “it was getting a little too crowded up there for my liking”. For the first part of the song my voice was breaking with emotion, but I got it together. I owed the song a good performance. In general, my 46-year-old vocal chords have some issues with singing the songs written and sung by 24-year-olds in chest voice, I had to do a couple things falsetto that in the past I could hit full voice. Still, it’s to be expected, and most of what I had I still have. Phew.

And then it was done. Being in that moment, a show is always a brief flicker. The conscious mind, the one that is aware of the passage of time, takes a back seat to the superconscious mind, when you’re in the moment of a performance. We packed up, and went to Bosco’s, to have drinks and hang, with the Gin Blossoms, Anthony, and some more friends.

Uh, that was some intense wine! I woke up a little hazy the next day, I think as much from the show’s impact on me as from the three generously poured glasses of syrah at Bosco’s. Either way, there wasn’t going to be much rehearsing today. We had lunch at the Trolley Stop Market, a farm-to-table cafe that has excellent coconut cake (or at least had, I think I killed the supply) which struck me as odd as last I checked there weren’t a hell of a lot of coconut trees in Tennessee. That afternoon we set up at Ardent and were interviewed by a team making a new documentary about Alex Chilton, going more in depth about his musical development post Big Star. Then, Jon, Jody & I sang backing vocals on Lucero‘s version of Big Star’s “I’m in Love With a Girl”. Then we had a big post-show dinner at the world famous Rendezvous. We took over three tables in the room with the Gin Blossoms & crew, a bunch of folks from Ardent, some of my out of town friends, and the Levitt Shell folks. We piled down on a heap of ribs, brisket, and trimmings. With the intensity of the show the night before, the fact that jet lag kept waking me up in the early single digit hours, etc…when dinner wrapped at 9.30, there was no question of where I was going–multiple zzz’s. In bed by 10.

The next day, there was a farewell lunch at Bahn Thai restaurant (Jon & I were like…Ok..no more meat, just for a bit…kay?). We flew to Atlanta, had a glass each of chardonnay in the airport Belgian beer bar way out at the end of the int’l terminal. I watched a couple of films and zonked out. Landed in Paris Saturday morning, took the bus to my hood, walked (with a properly rolling suitcase, now) home and soon my girls were there, and we were having lunch. Big day that day, the main tasks were fielding visits from various workers to bid on jobs to refresh my rental property before we get another renter in there. Some new paint, new cabinets, new flooring. Sounds huge, but it’s small stuff. And we have some electrical updating to do at our Paris residence, it’s always needed it, we’re getting around to it now. So, we had that guy come over too. Mixes to listen to. Files to receive, send out. Same old! The three of us had dinner (really, it’s mezze, so appetizers only, but we had a lot of them) at the Welcome Bio restaurant. I recommend it more for lunch, it’s a bit more special what they do at that time. After dinner I had a meeting with a band about an upcoming production project, since it’s not yet confirmed I’ll be discreet here, but still, good meeting. That and a lengthy bath got me past the midnite change-of-time-zone-minimum-curfew and I didn’t feel too groggy this morning. Breakfast with Dom at a quiet neighborhood cafe and then I took the train to Tours, have a lot to prepare for my performances this week.

Love
KS
Tours

HolyGon

We wrapped up our work on the Record (BTW if you’re reading this… PLEDGE!! if you haven’t already) this week, filling in the last songs, that is to say, we composed (with some help) and recorded. Sent out tons of files to guests. So far we have firm commitments from Matthew Caws to play the Narrator, and Shelby Earl to add some gospel stylings…drums have come in from our friend Adam Boyd, mandolin from our friend Nate Houge, and we have pedal steel and more coming soon.

The weather was gorgeous, we took our meals outside, all 4 of us (Dom, Aden, Holly, me) on the tiny table in the backyard. I spotted bats at dusk, I think they’re living even in our own attic.

Speaking of the Record…we added something really cool– partnering w Dysonics, we have recorded, as you’ve already read, material with their 360º sound capturing device, the Rondo mic. With a special attachment to your headphones, and an app, you can head music in surround on normal headphones. We’ve recorded some exclusive content for it, including a song w Keren Ann, and there’s a package on our Pledge campaign that gives you the app, the device, and access to the content and you are going to want to get in on this…it’s the future of audio, folks!

Then, it was done, and at 5.30 the next morning, a taxi took Holly to start her journey to Spain, where she’s been ever since. I immediately switched over to working on the Phantom Sound mixes, I spread a day of mix touch ups over two days so I could do a few other things — like take Dom out for lunch at a restaurant we’d wanted to try in the neighborhood, Plaisirs des Terroirs. It’s a wine shop, and they serve lunch most days. Coming from Paris, it’s hard to find a restaurant that knocks our socks off in Tours, but we can say here that they were friendly, accommodating, and the wine was great. We also used the days to restock the fridge– it’s amazing how much more supplies we need when there are guests here.

So, by the end of these two days, the Phantom Sound record is pretty much done, and I also had time to work on my Elliott Smith covers for the upcoming concert at Printemps de Bourges.

We missed Holly, she was a great part of the family for her days here. Aden loves that there’s someone else sleeping upstairs. But, we had fresh blood after a couple of days… my bandmate came to continue working on developing our live act for the stage. We’ve been hard at work ever since. Plugging in our new equipment…

And thus…Sunday morning…I’m getting to work.

Love
KS
Tours

THE RECORD GOES OFF!!!

This week it’s been all about THE RECORD.

Holly, our videographer Caleb, and I have been working, laughing, enjoying, eating, drinking, living breathing…as a unit in my house & studio. Dominique and I had our hands full, not only doing our respective jobs, and taking care of Aden, but shopping and cooking for this lively crew. It’s great to have people in the house, tho. So, if you are a regular reader of this blog, and you *haven’t* chipped in to our Pledge Music campaign, just. Stop. Now. And go to this link, and contribute. Seriously…we need you! It’s an expensive project, we need all the help we can get.

We do have quite a few special guests coming in to the picture, but one very special guest has completed her contribution — Keren Ann, a Paris-based singer, very well known here in France both as an artist and a writer/producer for other artists. She makes albums in French and English, and tours the world regularly. Holly and Keren Ann know each other via mutual music friends, and on Thursday we trucked up to her studio in Paris and tracked a song live. 4 guitars, three vocals, all around the Rondo mic, which we’ve been using for our sessions here in Tours as well. The Rondo mic is a specially designed array of 8 condenser mics, built into an egg-shaped housing, that capture sound in 360 degrees. Dysonics, the company behind the design, plan to radically change your headphone listening experience with not only their recording with this kind of mic array, but a device that attaches to any set of headphones and not only immerses you in 360º sound, but that sound also changes with *your* movements as well…heady stuff indeed. We’ve used the Rondo for a few things on the album, so this old school country concept album is using cutting edge tech to capture the performances and translate them to your ears. The Rondo captured our live take, Holly singing lead and playing acoustic 12 string; Keren Ann & I on acoustics and vocal harmonies, and her guitarist and studio-space-sharer Philippe on electric guitar. No overdubs, no mixing except for our physical positioning around the mic. We seemed to harmonize really well and blend, despite never having played together before. And Philippe, who didn’t even know he’d end up playing that day, nailed it, the perfect rootsy guitar for this kind of song. It’s going to be…well. AMAZING. We covered Willie Nelson’s “Time of the Preacher”, which links our album to his “Red Headed Stranger” album, which is the basis of the inspiration for this album we’re making now…that is, a concept album about the characters from “Doesn’t It Remind You of Something”. It’s really turning into a country opera, with full length songs, and tiny instrumental vignettes, mini themes recurring… YOU HAVE TO PREORDER THIS SO WE CAN FINISH IT!! PLEASE!!!

here’s the link: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/kenandholly/

After the session, we dropped our gear at my place, and headed up to Montmarte to have dinner at a tiny Italian place with Keren Ann and her toddler, Nico. Keren Ann retired, we hit my neighborhood favorite spots for some more wine.

The trip to Paris was typically messed up — when we walked to the tram, the sign at the stop announced the tram was blocked by a demonstration. SO we immediately called a cab, made our train no problem, but still…so typical. Paris was gridlocked by an even bigger demonstration so our cab ride from the station to my house was twice as long/expensive as normal. I hit the neighborhood running, had a new cheap suitcase to buy, had my favorite organic grocery to hit, needed dental floss that you can’t buy anywhere in Tours, it seems…plus going thru the mail at the Paris flat, and listening to the mixes from Nicole Bianchet’s album.

The next morning we were up at 6.30, Caleb our video man, who’s been an incredible trooper, asset, eater and buddy for this week, had his flight home to LA, and Holly & I had our train back to Tours. Still, I listened to the latest Phantom Sound mixes on my stereo that morning, the mixes held up. But anyway, my new Monitor Audio speakers arrived this week so now I have a great set up in Tours.

And records! I got my advance copy of the new Orange Humble Band album, “Depressing Beauty”. It’s a masterpiece. Tracked at Ardent Studios in Memphis, with Jody from Big Star on drums, Dave Smith (Cat Power, etc) on bass, Mitch Easter producing and playing guitar, Rick Steff (Lucero) on keys, and OHB mastermind Darryl Mather on acoustic guitar, and me singing the lead vocals…all live. Dwight Twilley appears, Chris Stamey and Carl Marsh (Carl did the original string etc arrangements on Big Star’s Third) did the string arrangements, and then on overdubs there’s Jon Auer singing/playing various stuff, Susan Cowsill on BVs, the Memphis Horns, Spooner Oldham on keys…it’s, just..wow. Beautiful recordings and performances. The release will be thru Citadel in Australia and it’s limited to 1000 numbered copies. Great packaging too.

Holly has been fighting what I believe is bronchitis, it’s been lingering for weeks, but she’s still managed to sing for the album, beautifully. Really impressed. I sing too, and play…well, a lot of stuff.

Meanwhile, my stepdad Dewey turned 90 (!) this week, my son Kenny turned 29. My mom and stepdad celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary. The sun came out in Tours, and I hauled the lawn mower over from Dom’s mom’s, and cut the grass; Dom’s mom came over and trimmed, and pruned, and tended to the garden.

We drank wine and even beer (we needed a beer being opened as a sound effect on the Holly & Ken record) at the house. One night when it was nice weather we all — Caleb, Aden, Holly, myself, Dom — went to the medieval town square in Tours, and also visited the cathedral, which is breathtaking. I’d not yet been. It took 500 years to build it…

One morning we woke to the unmistakable sound of a cuckoo in the woods behind us. And, I found out our rockery has lizards living in it…small brown fence lizards just like we see on Ile de Re. One morning, going to school, Aden was disgusted by a line of ‘processionaires’, a kind of tent caterpillar that move in a line, the hairs of one will always touch the ones of the caterpillar behind or ahead of it, and they move this way, all touching. It’s a bad strategy for crossing a street, I can say. They were on the side of the house right by the door, for some reason, and Aden found them too fat, wiggly, etc, for her taste. It’s just nature. We also seem to have ant lion pits under the deck. Dom used to catch them as a kid, I’ve never seen one except in books.

Bedtime here… we have three more songs to finish up in the coming days, with composition and then recording…we’re incredibly excited about it.

Love
KS
Tours