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

Tour ends in Tours

What a busy week — I was deep in the mixing for Mimi Schell‘s album, absolutely loving how the songs were blossoming, I love these mixes (and songs). I also worked on Sweet Gum Tree‘s mixes and recorded a bunch of extra stuff on the tracks we recorded together the previous week. Guitars, keyboards, backing vocals, drum programming. I’m still tinkering with one of the songs, I think I need to add a little more fairy dust here and there. Honestly, I was working so hard, I don’t remember much else of the week…a few nice meals outside when the weather was nice. Lizards everywhere, we have a LOT. I love to sit at our table in the backyard and listen to birdsong. Oh, I did mow the lawn again. Hardest working man in showbiz.

The house across the street from us, which has been dormant since we moved in, came to life. It’s got a proposed works sign on it, and it’s meant to be torn down and replaced with a small apartment building, and no one wants that of course. The old man who lived there when Dom was growing up has been dead for some time, and his kids have agreed to sell to a developer. But the other folks in the neighborhood have sued to prevent the apartments from being built. And they might win. So, the house is worth something if its developable; if it’s not, it’s a lovely but extremely dilapidated 19th-century house that will need massive amounts of rehab. It’s got an air of mystery to it, not the least bit as the old man was some kind of inventor, odd creations of his are visible here and there in his overgrown yard. Some kind of doll hangs in a window. It’s less scary than it sounds. But the house came to life. The kids came to town, and cut back some bushes and did other maintenance. The ‘kids’ are probably almost 60 themselves.

BRIGHTON, 5.15

The last show of the Posies warm up tour. The night before I left, I went to bed super early, and therefore when I was up at 5.40 the next morning, I didn’t feel too bad. I bathed, shaved, dressed, had breakfast. Gently woke up Dom and she drove me to the station (the car is back, at last…we haggled with the insurance company and they agreed at last to repair it, not total it out). By 7.30 I was on my way to Paris. It was Ascension weekend, so Paris was really quiet. Checked in and boarded the Eurostar, I worked on the Sweet Gum Tree mix #2 the whole way over. At St. Pancras, Jon & I sat at a table at one of the coffee shops there, I was amused when I spied a very tidy Wallace & Gromit looking couple, cardigans and what not, brazenly pull out a bottle of whiskey and top up their cokes.

A lot of trains were delayed and cancelled, including the first Brighton train we could have jumped if we hurried. There was no reason to hurry. Everything was going according to plan. Our train finally came up on the board, a few minutes late, but running. Evidently the British Rail companies are either full of sick passengers, or they are very sensitive about sick passengers. Many of the train delays were due to an ‘ill passenger’. Got on our train, and we arrived in Brighton. Cloudy, but not too cold. Now, Jon had a small rolling suitcase, computer bag stacked on that pilot style, and a guitar. I had a huge suitcase w/our gear, and merch, plus my effects pedal bag (very heavy) on top of that, and a guitar. And a backpack. Gawd. I’d mapped the route in my head. We were walking. It was, at least, downhill. We ran in to Bella Hay on the street; and I guided Jon & I to the registration area, picked up our passes. Then, navigating to the club…the entire route, by the way, was about half a mile all told. A long way with all this stuff. At one point we had to walk between a stage with a live band, and their audience. The streets got very tiny, we were walking thru winding little alleys full of shops and cafes and festival goers. I knew the club was too our right, would this little alley be the right way? A young man with hipster facial hair emerged and I asked him if he knew the place we were going to, Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar. It was, indeed, right thru the alley and a half a block closer to the water. Right. No wasted effort. Our get in time was 4pm; when we walked thru the door it was, precisely, 4pm. I’m that good.

The Pierce Brothers were already sound checking, and actually finished early. So, we could set up. Oscar and the Wolf loaded in, which was good, cuz we were using their amp and keyboards (and several of their EU-UK plug converters). With the lines running hither and yon from snake to our audio interface, things were getting a little confusing, between myself, Aoife the sound engineer and her assistant, whose name was Annie, I think? Oh, it’s all a blur. But we did soundcheck, and after much wrangling, the laptop stuff sounded good. Then we got our stuff offstage and went to check in at the hotel, which was just on the block behind us. I did a little more mixing work, and then met up with Andrew & Amy from Lojinx, and Marisa from the Phantom Sound in the lobby. We had dinner together and then Marisa cut my hair (she used to own a salon in LA). Now, being that this was a showcase festival, we were getting paid peanuts, and in England, they don’t even give you peanuts. No hotel is provided, no meals, so…cost conscious band that we are, Jon & I shared one hotel room (it actually cost more than the fee we were paid, so on top of that we had the trains, cabs, etc to get from Tours/Paris to Brighton and back). Soon, said hotel room was filled with boxes of my CDs (from Lojinx) and tufts of hair. It Iooked like Keith Moon’s chest hair had exploded.

That took us right up to showtime, we hustled over to the club, I caught up with our booking agent James and watched most of Oscar and the Wolf’s set. Great band, they also play with a lot of computer tracks, but they do have a live drummer, I think I see the light here. One thing cool about this drummer is he plays all very dead cymbals, they barely ring, so everything is super tight. There’s a keyboard player, a guitar player, and a lanky singer (Oscar, I presume? No, his name is Max) wearing a kind of trench coat onstage. People loved it, they have kind of a modern electro pop vibe, with almost hip hop moments, some mournful vocals, a bit Bon Iver. They had a great groove (and much of that was in ye olde laptop). Then they were done, we got our stuff going, somehow the patching went all wrong (you could see that coming) so not everything came out of the computer as we were hoping, but we/Aoife got it sorted. The place was packed, and I saw some wonderful familiar faces. Anuj, who was the entire audience for my bizarre restaurant gig outside of Dehli a couple years ago. A few other fans and friends. It was a bit stressful getting onstage at the festival pace, and playing only new songs, and we hadn’t played in over a week, so we weren’t a well-oiled touring machine. And yet, it was pretty damn good. And people seemed to love it. I just dug in and tried to make the least mistakes possible. Tried to keep eye contact with Jon. It wasn’t relaxed enough for me to really feel groovy, but it was exciting we played all 6 of the new songs, and then did our epic piano/guitar vers. of “Coming Right Along”. Oh, and for some reason (maybe the result of hauling our gear on foot for half a mile in Billy Reid boots) i had horrible foot and leg cramps for about half the set, I felt like I’d stepped on an electric fence. And then it was done. Holy crap. Within about two minutes Aoife went from buddy buddy to stern taskmaster and was yelling at me to get my stuff off stage NOW. Uh…ok…yikes. I just scraped everything — guitar, cables, laptop, pedals…like you’re clearing off a plate before washing it. Offstage, I tried to account for everything. I revenge barked at Aoife a bit as we need our guitar cable #3, which was used by us and Oscar for the keyboard, and it was still plugged in to the snake. “I need that cable out yesterday!” I said, authoritatively. OK, avenged.

The charming and trim Neil Whitcher, from Fender, was on hand and actually packed up my guitar (which, being a Gretsch, came from his office, ten years ago). He helped me roll everything to the hotel, and the Lojinx crew helped Jon do the same. I took an inventory and quickly repacked, looks like I got everything. No merch was going to be sold, it was a music biz crowd anyway, people who have never had to buy a record in their adult life. It was time to commence drinking. Someone had helped themselves to most of our beers backstage but a few remained, I distributed them around and almost drank half of my 1664. I asked Neil what he knew of wine bars in Brighton, as the Pierce Brothers whipped the crowd into a frenzy, all stomping, celtic scales, digeridoo, etc.

Neil led us back the way we came from the train station, thru the incredible gardens of the Brighton Palace, and finally to Ten Green Bottles wine bar. There was Jon, myself, Neil, Marisa, Andrew & Amy, and our friend Steve, his lady Sue and their friend Michael. We drank….an incredible amount of wine and made a substantial amount of merry. Neil had to duck out, early morning meeting at work the next day, but the rest of us did some serious wine damage and closed the place out. Marisa left us, but Steve & Co had big AirBNB flat and some cheese so we….went on. At some point Jon & I stumbled back to our hairy hotel room and that was that. I think the show was great, I think the night was fun…as far as I can recall.

Up at 7.30, ow. I hadn’t even bothered to undress, I just rolled out of bed, packed up my stuff, brushed my teeth and went to the lobby. Jon followed a few minutes later and we had a straight (but uphill) walk to the station. And it was back to work, most of the day I worked on Mimi’s stuff. In St Pancras I had a tea at the champagne bar, where I was all alone at a table with a place to charge the laptop. I even found an empty seat on the Eurostar with a power outlet (our car had none) and worked the whole way to Paris. Cabbed to Montparnasse, worked in the lounge there, worked on the train home to Tours. Dom & Aden picked me up and as we turned the corner on the main drag near our house, we saw there was an art opening, an old building near us was taken over, and outside there was a small gathering…and what appeared, to my eagle eye, to be free wine. We parked and checked out the art contemporain installation, and then headed to the noshing. Evidently today was some kind of museum open house in Tours, with all museums open and free, and art things happening everywhere. And free stuff. There was chorizo, cheese, wine, and ‘cake’. What ‘cake’ means in French is a savory loaf, typically it would be ‘cake aux lardons’ which would be a savory loaf with some ham/bacon things in it. The one I tried a slice of was cake made with blood sausage and apples (this combination is a very typical one in regional cuisine). The free wine outside had attracted the attention of at least a couple bums, who were graciously served. One guy was clean shaven, and generally not homeless-guy looking, but he didn’t have a full set of teeth and had clearly pissed his pants. And was helping himself to a bit of cheese.

Back at home, I got the latest Mimi mix into shape, and went back to work on Sweet Gum Tree’s mix….Arno, if you’re reading this, I’ll have a song for you by the end of the week. Feels good to unpack, at last…no traveling for the next three weeks. I went to bed around 12.30 to find Aden in our bed…while I was away the girls were scared shitless, it’s woodsy and dark at our end of the street, and there’s an odd phenomenon in our house–I’ve been fooled by it many times. Noises from the outside–a car door slamming, stuff falling over in the neighbor’s garage, footsteps on the sidewalk–seem to be amplified in the upstairs of our house and are thrown down the staircase, amplified — so it sounds like things are happening upstairs, uncannily so. One time a delivery truck next door closed up its bay doors and it sounded like something fell over in the studio, I was certain — maybe a microphone on a stand had been left with the mic hanging forward not over one of the tripod legs. Went upstairs, nothing. Then discovered the truck out front. But you don’t hear the noises in the ground floor directly, I think because of the 6-foot-high wall around our house. Well. We were fine. We slept past ten and are going to brunch. Tour is over.

Love
KS
Tours

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.