This “Shoebox Series” is as a natural extension of my ongoing “Polaroid Project “, which allows me to share seemingly unrelated and unseen snapshots that span two summers and can’t be categorized by any one label. Since art and smiles should always be shared, I’ve decided to save these snapshots from their shoebox and show them to you. Each photo is as organic, unedited & unique as the smiles they showcase.
(If you &/or a friend are featured in a portrait please contact me with your mailing address & I’ll send you the original email@example.com)
Polaroid Portrait Project: Sonic Bloom 2016
The purpose of this polaroid portrait project is to take intimate & spontaneous snapshots of the many passionate people who perform, produce & partake in our outstanding Colorado music community. Each photo is as organic, unedited & unique as the smiles they showcase.
(If you &/or a friend are featured in a portrait please contact me with your mailing address & I’ll send you the original firstname.lastname@example.org)
Polaroid Portrait Project: BeanStalk 2016
The purpose of this polaroid portrait project is to take intimate & spontaneous snapshots of the many passionate people who perform, produce & partake in our outstanding Colorado music community. Each photo is as organic, unedited & unique as the smiles they showcase.
(If you &/or a friend are featured in a portrait please contact me with your mailing address & I’ll send you the original email@example.com)
A huge thanks to this magical man for founding, running & headlining his own festival.
I’m forever inspired & grateful to play a part in this magnificent musical movement.
The late July heat hung heavy in the air as I stood shirtless atop my roof, stretching desperately for cell service, when suddenly there was life on the other line. Garrett “G.Love” Dutton’s voice, with his signature twang and fun-loving flow, rang through the crackling static in spurts “went surfing – opened the door –first record – Philadelphonic –his own —rest is history”.
What sounds like threads to an unfinished mad lib is actually an abbreviated answer to how he met Jack Johnson.
Journalistic integrity prevents me from paraphrasing an attempt at what I’m pretty sure he said, but the fuzzy fragments from our phone call demonstrate how details are secondary, or sometimes insignificant, in the larger than life masterpieces painted by people with a palpable passion for life. Garrett’s music manifests that feeling and draws from all it’s contrasting colors, mixing his summits with his sorrows and blending his emotions with his experiences till they combine into a uniquely soulful shade of blues based hip-hop rock.
Garrett’s style of songwriting finds inspiration interwoven into everything and everyone, letting song ideas incubate until they come to life; whether it is a playful love song to cold beverages or a poignant breakup ballad to an ex-lover. It’s an all-inclusive creative approach, that’s actually more an attitude, drawing no distinctions between himself and his art while allowing his musical muses to slowly marinate until they spontaneously sprout into song.
For Garrett that uncontrollable creativity sometimes strikes while surfing, and that inspiration was infectiously intact as AKcreative caught up with him fresh out of the water and on his way to sound-check in San Diego to discuss celebrating the 20th anniversary of his first album, songwriting with Cody Simpson, and the magic of capturing creative epiphanies.
AKcreative: How was your evening surf?
Garrett: [Laughter]. It was good. Actually the waves were kind of soft, but it was just nice to get out there and get wet.
Do you ever find yourself writing songs or getting inspired while you’re out on the water?
Actually, yeah I do that quite a bit. Something about being out in the water, you know, you’re surfing out there alone, and you just kind of set your mind free. A lot of times, like I get a song idea when I’m out surfing, and then I’ll just sing it over and over again in my head so I don’t forget it, you know.
And then, like, praying is something that I think is good, to say a prayer that I don’t forget it, and I’ll just keep repeating it over and over my whole session. Then the minute I get out of the water I’ll sing it into the phone real quick before I forget it.
Is there one particular song you can remember that you wrote that way?
I’m trying to think of any ones that have been on my record that I started out in the water. There are some that may have then made the record, and I don’t know, man. It could be surfing, it could be walking down the street, but, I mean that’s kind of like how the songs come about, you know, just kicking down the sidewalk and you get a phrase or a little melody in your head and you start whistling it, singing the words, or just freestyling.
You know, it’s just great to have an iPhone now because you can just record it straight into your phone. And, I mean, back in the day I used to carry around one of those mini dictator things, and I think as a songwriter, you always have to make yourself available to catch those moments when they come. Those moments of inspiration are one of your writing tools, you know, you want it to be real, right? You want it to not be contrived. You want it to be something that’s spontaneous.
So, I mean, those initial ideas for songs come when you’re sleeping, when you’re surfing, when you’re walking, when you’re fucking, when you’re, you know, cooking, when you’re putting your kid to sleep, or whatever the hell you’re doing, when you’re totally wasted or when you’re totally sober. But if it comes, you’ve got to be ready for it. You’ve got to have some way of making sure you don’t forget it and get the initial idea down then fill it out with lyrics and good music around it. Sometimes no one ever hears it, and sometimes it becomes a good hit.
It seems like living is innately what inspires you. But is it difficult to remain actively inspired as an artist? Especially as you celebrate the 20-year anniversary of your debut album.
That’s a good question. I mean, yes and no, I feel very strongly that songs should be inspired. So, you know, I don’t often just write for the sake of writing, or if I do start writing and become uninspired I’ll basically move on to something else. I feel like I’ve done that a lot over the years. I’ve tried to force a song and you know what? They just end up being bad, but it’s good to do that practice as a songwriter. To go okay, I’m going to write this song and I’m going to fill it out.
I’m kind of hitting a wall, but I’m going to plow through that wall, and after 20 years I have a lot of songs, so I really like to let them come organically now. That doesn’t mean when they come organically I don’t put a lot of work into making them something super special after that initial creative burst, but these days I kind of just wait for them to come, and that way I know, or I hope, that everything is going to be of a pure inspiration. So I think I kind of am into a quality over quantity approach these days.
Even with that approach, you wrote a total of 40 tunes for Sugar then mined that down to 16 final tracks.
Yeah, that’s true. I do write a lot, and I’ve been writing a lot since I was 15. I’m going to be 43 this year, so, you know, I’ve almost been writing songs for 30 years. I have a lot of songs, some of them are finished, some of them suck, some of them are fucking awesome, some of them will never be finished, some of them hopefully will be finished, some of them will be recorded, and some of them won’t. But, yeah, I think that’s all part of the process, after you use a pencil or pen, then you’ve got to play them for your band, and then play them for a crowd to see if the people feel them. If the band likes it and then the crowd likes it, that’s usually a pretty good sign that song should be used for a record.
You guys are already exploring even more of the songs you sacrificed for Sugar on the Sweet ’N Blues EP you recently released, and I’d imagine there’s possibly more that could maybe be made into some sort of “Splenda” album.
[Laughter]. The Sweet ‘N Blues EP we just released is all the outtakes of Sugar. But, we actually just did record another record, and I just got the finished mixes today. The record is called Loves Saves the Day, and it comes out October 23rd.
Sugar has just been an awesome record for us, but we had an opportunity to record another record. Honestly didn’t have as much time in between the last record and this one, but this record was a cool record for us because I really had some good tunes that I wanted to record, and actually, we really came together as a band on this record and wrote some awesome tunes as a band. I think some of the favorite ones are some of the songs that Jim, Jeff and I wrote together off the new batch that are coming out in October.
What inspired you to rework some of your lyrics from “City Livin ” off of Superhero Brother into the track “Too Much Month” off of Sugar?
“Too Much Month” is a song that’s written by my old rapping partner Jasper, and he had that song for a while and I always liked it, then when I wrote City Livin’ I kind of just dropped that phrase into the song “City Livin”. So, you know, kind of quoting off my friend’s song
Along the same lines of writing with friends, what was it like working with Cisco Adler and Cody Simpson on the song “Love Yourself”?
Yeah, Cisco is a long-time friend and I just wrote with him this spring for this record. He’s one of these guys that’s a natural connector, and he’s always got something going. So whenever he calls it’s a, “Hey, do you want to do this?” Yeah. I usually will say yes. It was a really cool session. I had that song, and actually that was one that I was going to record on my new record, but it was just kind of the timing of it. I was pretty hot on that track. So they said, “Oh, well, do you have any ideas?” because we’re going to write a song and record it that day. So I said, “Well, I’ve got some ideas of songs that I’m kind of working on,” and Cody chose the song “Love Yourself”, and I figured that fit along with kind of like his vibe and his message, and so we kind of started with this song that I had existing, and then we did kind of rearrange it a little bit and readjust it, rewriting some of the lyrics, we cut it, and it was really cool. He’s actually a super nice guy, great singer, a good writer, and he’s handsome as can be, and, you know, was dating a super model. So all signs point to rock stardom for Cody Simpson.
Going back to some of your rock stardom and relationships, I read in a past interview about your Gibson J-45 having to be reconstructed after getting thrown out of a fourth story window in New York. Was writing the album and digesting that heartbreak almost like reconstructing yourself?
Yes. I mean, in a way. It’s funny because the Sugar record was initially going to be a lot of heartbreak songs, with just songs about kind of breaking up relationships and then it ended up turning — it ended up changing. There’s every kind of song, and I did some co-writing, so you have a song like from Jasper, who has been a struggling musician, just wanting to make music, singing about “I want to pour my heart into my art, and Lord knows I’ve been trying, but I’ve got too much month at the end of my money”.
And then you’ve got Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, he and I wrote that song” Nothing Quite Like Home”. He was really coming at it like, wow, I’m a rock star now. I never knew I’d miss home so much from the fast lane.
On the new record Love Saves the Day, I feel like the songs, a lot of them were inspired by, you know, getting my heart broken and going through a lot of long-term emotional, distraught from a past relationship. A lot of people go through it, and you’re going to live, but you somehow have to step back, and for me, music’s still a major element of that. Although I don’t think it comes across as depressing, I think that it’s kind of really bad ass. There’s happy stuff on it, but there’s some angry stuff on it too, and I think the Love Saves the Day record is like our heaviest, bluesiest, ‘rock-and-rollist’ record, and it’s pretty — it’s hot.
What would you like to tell your fans who will read this interview, or the ones who are see coming to see you on stage tonight in San Diego?
I’d just like to tell them thanks so much for the love. And, you know, 23 years, we really couldn’t do it without them. It’s that enthusiasm and that love that we get from the people that keeps us going, and keeps us creating music, and keeps us hot on stage and wanting to be on stage. And, you know, we always strive to give them the very best of ourselves. We just want to send love out to those people.
If you’d like to share in some of that love Garrett will be playing at the Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado tonight and is touring throughout the country till mid April. For tickets and additional tour info click here, and enjoy his bluesy black and white video for “Nothing Quite Like Home”.
Compared to the tribal patterns and exuberantly flowing floral attire of the audience at Beanstalk Music Festival, Iron Horse looks like they just arrived from church.
But really they were fresh off of a flight from Alabama that morning.
And although it was a Sunday, and they wore well-fitted flannel collared shirts atop clean-cut pants and an assortment of leather shoes, they didn’t come to Colorado to sit in pews; they came to perform on stage.
You could classify Iron Horse’s songs as covers, but truly they’re more of a bluegrass-based re-creation of the original. A melodic make over of sorts; boiling the track down to its salty simplicity, unplugging the instruments, adding a lush array of acoustic strings, trimming some fat, but leaving enough for flavor, and enjoying the end product; a uniquely raw and distinctly recognizable rendition. Featuring bands such as: Modest Mouse, Metallica, The Shins, Led Zeppelin, and Van Halen.
The creation of this concept can be traced back to 2003 when Iron Horse, who has an extensive catalogue of original work, was approached by CMH Records to record a couple blue grass ‘covers’. That lead to Fade to Bluegrass, their rendition of Metallica’s classic metal album Fade to Black, which was so successful that they decided to duplicate their full-album approach and create a deep and diverse catalogue of music that melds metal with indie rock till it results in an all encompassing and captivating sound.
Tony Robertson, who sings and plays mandolin alongside band mates Vance Henry (guitar), Anthony Richardson (banjo), and Ricky Rogers (bass), is as polite as he is passionate about making music. His nonchalant and keenly nuanced style of singing and strumming on stage makes him appear like a man who mastered his craft on the white wooden porch of a plantation style home while happily sipping some lemonade and laughing with friends.
He balances being in Iron Horse with a full-time job, and amidst his busy schedule Tony was nice enough to talk with AKcreative about the acoustics of playing in a sold out cave,Metallica playing their covers before shows, and having the best of both worlds.
AKcreative: How’s your Monday going Tony?
Tony: Everything’s rock and roll, I’m living the dream. It’s a typical Monday around here. Today and Friday are always busy days for us, so we just got to survive them.
Have you always had a full time job in addition to making music with Iron Horse?
That’s the way to do it, make a living and then enjoy the fruits of the hobby for a while until you can do it full time. I’ve always enjoyed having the best of both worlds to be honest with you. I’ve been playing since I was seventeen, and I’ve always had a day job then played music on the weekends or whenever I could, so it’s worked out really well. I’ve been able to enjoy something I’m passionate about while making a living too. Not that you can’t make a living in music, it’s just a different way of living.
So after your Sunday afternoon set at Beanstalk Music Festival in Colorado, were you back in Alabama and at work come Monday morning?
Our flight actually left around six Monday morning and we didn’t get here till late that night, so we were back to work by Tuesday.
At Beanstalk your band mate Ricky felt inspired to mention Woodstock and doubted that anyone in the crowd could have attended it because they probably weren’t born yet.
Woodstock was even a little bit before our time, but here’s the thing about Woodstock and places like that. We’ve been to and played a lot of festivals over the years and there have been a lot of really big neat festivals like that, they just didn’t get out of hand and you didn’t have the same caliber of stars that they had on that particular stage. But, we’ve played a lot of nice festivals over the years that have had really big crowds. Bonnaroo up here near Nashville is one that has really exploded, and it’s got lots of different kinds of music and has really bloomed into a huge festival.
Have you ever played Bonnaroo ?
We haven’t, but we’ve had some inquiries about playing it that we just haven’t been able to follow through on. We’re hoping here in the next year or two that we’ll be there. We don’t do too many festivals. We sort of prefer indoor venues, but we like going and playing those one off festivals because those are always neat.
A lot of the bluegrass circuit used to be that you had to go for two days, play twice on Friday and two times Saturday, so we just kind of got burned out doing that to be honest. That’s why we like do those one off things, it’s just more conducive to our schedule and we can put more into one show rather then trying to divide it all between four.
It was Ricky who mentioned Woodstock while you were on stage, and it’s clear now that none of us were in attendance, but do you still see examples of that same spirit and energy being kept alive by Beanstalk and other modern music festivals?
There was some really good talent at the Beanstalk Festival, and tons of talented people who put a lot into it and all the acts we saw were really good. Some festivals that we play, the talent is just ok or not exactly what you would hope it’d be, and as musicians, we like to sit and listen too. We like to be interested in what’s happening on stage when we have a few minutes, and a lot of times that’s hard to get because there’s a lot of people out there doing music right now, but some of it is just sort of lackluster and it’s not all that interesting. But we applaud everyone who does it because you’ve gotta get out there and find out where you’re gonna land. We’ve been doing the Iron Horse thing for fifteen years so we pretty well know where we fit into things and where we don’t fit into things.
As a band that ‘covers’ such a wide range of genres, you probably have a pretty motley mix of fans that could consequently lead you to play some odd shows. Over the past fifteen years with Iron Horse, was there a time that you guys got a gig and could tell right away that you definitely didn’t fit in?
Well we’ve played some places without naming some of them, where we would come on at like 12 at night and play till like 2 in the morning, an we don’t fit into those real well. Usually clubs and things get rowdy after midnight, so we don’t really feel like we fit into that. We fit in better when the audience is really interested in this thing that we’re doing.
What’s one of the more memorable and fitting shows that you’ve played with Iron Horse?
That’s a good question right there. We’ve played several that have been really interesting lately. We played The Bluegrass Underground in McMinnville, Tennessee. It was so interesting because we had never played, as I guess most people haven’t, in a cave like that before. We got down there and thought, ‘boy the sound will just be all over the place’, and were expecting a sound man’s nightmare, but it was just a great adventure for us. It’s not that far from us, but we had never been there before, and when we got in there the sound turned out to be a musician’s dream. It was perfect, the acoustics were dialed in exactly as they should have been. I think it holds five to six hundred people or something like that, and it was sold out. It’s just a really memorable place to play.
We’ve also played a lot of interesting weddings. We played one for the Johnson family, of Johnson & Johnson, up in New York a few years ago and our contract was about two inches thick. They may even send someone to kill me now because we weren’t supposed to talk about who was there and those types of things, but they treated us as well as you could possibly be treated when you play a gig. They were very delightful people and we were very honored to be invited to play that wedding. We also did another wedding for the guy who owns the Ruby Tuesdays restaurant chain. His son is a really big fan of ours, so we ended up doing his wedding up in the Smoky Mountains. There was a resort up there and they just rented the whole entire thing. We’ve had a lot of memorable events I guess, I could go on all day.
Have you ever had the opportunity to perform alongside one of the bands that you’ve covered before?
You know we have not, and it is probably our fault because we haven’t pursued that, and it’s sort of one of our bucket list items that we would love to do. Mike Malinen of The Goo Goo Dolls actually put a drum track on The Goo Goo Dolls project that we did when we sent the tracks out to him in California, and that’s probably as close as we have come. We know Black Label Society was really interested in doing it with us, but we haven’t gotten around to them to get that done. We also know Metallica is completely satisfied with what we did with their stuff, and there is something out on YouTube where I think it was Kirk Hammett is being interviewed and they asked him about Iron Horse and he talked about how they play our songs before some of their concerts. It will take a lot to make that happen, but we would like to make it happen at some point.
Has there ever been an original track that you may not initially like too much, but as you convert it to bluegrass and begin to get immersed in it, the track surprises you, and all of the sudden you’re a fan of Metallica or maybe some other band that you wouldn’t see yourself liking otherwise?
We approach things in this manner. We break the song down to where it’s like a songwriter brought us a song and he’s playing a guitar, gives us the lyrics, and says, ‘here you go guys’. That’s how we’ve been successful at changing these things into pretty good bluegrass songs. We keep some of the riffs and some of the stuff that makes the songs what they are in their original form.
I can tell you this, we weren’t metal heads, but we knew who Metallica was and we knew they were big. When we started listening to their music and dissecting it Metallica shocked us. There’s genius in their chord progressions and when you can understand their lyrics, and take the time to read them you see that they are really good writers. We were also surprised at Modest Mouse. When we first listened to the songs we were going ‘wow, this has got some complex chords in it,’ so we were thinking ‘what in the world are we going to do with this’? But the more we listened to it, the more we got interested in the music and we could really appreciate what some of these people have done. Ozzy Osbourne is a really good songwriter, and I like to joke on stage sometimes and mention that Ozzy didn’t know he was writing a bluegrass song when he wrote “Momma I’m Coming Home” or “Crazy Train”.
It’s really made us pay attention to the people who did those songs originally and appreciate them even more.
How do you choose what band to cover?
We started when CMH Label Group out in Los Angeles contacted us about doing the Metallica thing. They had been doing some instrumental versions of some of those songs and said, ‘we want to do a vocal version, but we’re not sure we want to do it, so if you guys could do a couple of cuts, and let us listen to them, then we’ll decide’. So we did the initial cuts that they sent us, and after we did those two cuts we were like, ‘we want to do this now’, and we weren’t sure we really wanted to do it to begin with.
It was almost a year later before they came back to us and said, ‘ok, we really dig this, lets do the whole thing’. So we ended up doing the whole project and it just turned out fabulous, and was a good stretch between bluegrass and metal music.
But normally we’ll go back and forth, they’ll throw out some ideas and say, ‘can you guys cover this or would you be interested in it,’ and then we’ll take a look at it and get back to them. So we kind of decide amongst ourselves if it’s a good fit to do it and we’ve been well satisfied with the ones that we’ve done, I think they turned out pretty good.
Not only do the tunes turn out pretty good, the albums also sold really well, especially for being a bluegrass band in the modern music industry.
A good sale for your standard bluegrass album of somebody who’s out their touring and doing it right now would probably be 10-20,000 units, but we have far surpassed that, and I’ll attribute that to being able to open up the markets and not just be stuck to a bluegrass audience.
We’ve got fans that listen to rock when they were growing up and they kind of like bluegrass, and we’ve got people on the flipside of that, who grew up with bluegrass and kind of like some rock, and now they’re all switching back and forth.
We had an interesting post on our website years ago from a teacher at the University of Tennessee who said ‘ I appreciate you guys doing the Metallica thing because my son is a metal head and I’ve always loved bluegrass, but we could never even listen to the radio when we got in the car together. Now we have this one project that we can stick in the CD player and we’ll both enjoy the music.’ It really has been able to cross a lot of open field, I guess you could say, because a lot of people once they pick their brand they kind of stick with it, but this is giving people a chance to kind of look at music a different way and maybe have a different, more lenient perspective.
Not only that but it’s connecting those people, and even creating a bond between a father and a son. Did you ever foresee this potential in Iron Horse?
No, you never could. I would have never dreamed that somebody would post something like that to our website, or that it would happen much less.
Do you ever get recognized in public or treated like a ‘rock star’ of sorts in your hometown?
Well, it’s really funny, a guy who’s a song writer told me the other day, ‘you know I go all over the country and everyone all over knows who you guys are, but you can go into one of the clubs in town and they don’t really know who you are,’ and I said, ‘ that’s because we don’t play there’. It’s kind of like a prophet without honor is his own hometown, you know.
Yet you can repeatedly sell out stages outside of your hometown.
The last time we played The Aggie Theater in Colorado it was sold-out, so we can go that far away and still sell out shows. We don’t even try to play at home because I think when we get back home it’s more like we’re resting from playing out on the road, especially since almost everything we do is on the road. We were in Alaska last year in June, and we’ve also been to Canada and Europe. We’ve just gone a long way with it for some reason, and I don’t know exactly why.
Is it pretty cool to see where music has taken you in life? Especially working a day job and then going to all of those places thanks to being really good at plucking some strings and making music with your friends.
Yea, absolutely, I mean it gets back to fullness of life and asking how can you lead your fullest possible life, and I think you can have the best of all worlds.
We were playing in Belgium back in 2005 I believe it was, and some guys drove eight hours from Germany up to this little hole in the wall in Belgium where we were playing. These guys were so beside themselves that we got anywhere close to Germany you know, and that alone made that trip worth it.
Then we got down to Toulouse France to play a street festival where there were maybe 100 people when this street thing got going at like five in the afternoon, but when we got ready to play there were maybe 250 people and by about the time that we started up on our first song people were coming from out of nowhere and just filled up this town with almost 3,000 people in 15 minutes. We’re just standing there thinking this is unbelievable. You get to see things like that when you’re out doing this, that you would never see at home.
To conclude our conversation, since I know you’re a busy man, what would you like to tell your fans?
We would love to tell everybody that we appreciate you and thanks for listening to our music. Without the same old cliché, we wouldn’t be doing anything if weren’t for the people who listen to the music and can take it for what it is. They don’t have to dissect it or put it into this group of music. We’ve heard so many times over the years, ‘what would you guys classify your kind of music as,’ and really we don’t.
We grew up listening to rock music, we grew up listening to country music, and we grew up playing bluegrass, so we don’t see it all as separate. We’re glad that the people who listen to our music are able to listen to it that way, and that they can just listen to it, enjoy it, and not worry about where it goes or where it belongs. It’s just music, you know.
For tour dates and more information on Iron Horse visit, www.IronHorseBluegrass.com, and enjoy this live video of the guys performing Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”.
All writing from the mind, heart & hands of Austin Koontz
firstname.lastname@example.org – (610) 730-2314 – Fort Collins, Colorado
You know magic when you see it.
The experience leaves no need for explanation, and rather then taking your brain through a maze of making sense, simply acknowledge, appreciate and absorb it.
Beanstalk Music and Mountains Festival not only epitomizes this magic, it generates goose bumps.
It’s the type of sensation you can’t fake or force, and for a whole weekend almost 2,000 people were fortunate enough to feel and fuel that magic.
On Friday as Beanstalk began there was a palpable positive energy emulating around State Bridge where amazing music was already echoing through the canyon carved out by the mighty Colorado River rushing just feet from the main stage. Even the potentially problematic weather couldn’t counteract such an unbelievably upbeat vibe; the persistent Colorado sun burned through the cloud cover and sunshine smiled down onto this Rocky Mountain musical oasis.
Two hours before the Kitchen Dwellers kicked things off on the main stage they were all alone at the campground circled up by their cabin practicing some picking. What could have simply been seen as some hippies having fun around an unlit fire pit, was actually an amazingly accurate depiction of what Beanstalk is all about – the music. Which sounds simple to say about a music festival, but Beanstalk is different, in both style and spirit, existing far from many mainstream festivals where profit and spectacle often overshadow passion and sound.
The beautiful town of Bond, Colorado provided an ideally intimate and awe-inspiring environment for the festival; featuring striking scenery, lots of local vendors, live paintings by legends like Scramble Campbell, and a dance floor that was more like an adult sand pit to play in. And play they did, with smiles on their faces through the temporary spurts of rain that trampled through the canyon just long enough for us to relish in it’s refreshment. As the sun continued to win the war with the sky the Main Squeeze took the stage and suddenly a strong gust of funk began to flow. I don’t know what funky fruit they are squeezing, but it’s juice is a smooth and soulful nectar that packed as much power as the southbound train that rattled its way across the rails during their exhilarating performance Friday afternoon. With wind rustling through Corey Frye’s silky white kimono as he soulfully sang, “moments like this don’t happen every day,” it became clear to all in attendance that we were actively enjoying one of those moments destine to repeat itself for three more days
“It’s nice to be free from all the shi..STUFF, in our lives like iPads and mini vans,” Kyle Hollingsworth says smirking after censoring himself as if his daughters were with him. He couldn’t be more right, and without cell service or any notion of worries, it was even easier for festivalgoers and the festival to focus on the music. But Kyle on stage in a well-worn tie dyed Onesie and a purple puffball cat hat spinning around like a mad man amidst nearly 360 degrees of keys, made it hard to focus. But if Kyle or his special guest and fellow member of The String Cheese Incident, Michael Kang, were interested in money and not music, they wouldn’t be at Beanstalk; we never would have witnessed Kang make “Rosie>Billie Jean>Rosie” sound so spectacular on the mandolin.
Kang and Kyle tearing through most of Hollingsworth’s latest solo album, The Speed of Life, was something to behold. Not only because of their musicianship and the dancing it induced, but because a lucky crowd of just a little less than 2,000 people were witnessing two members of one of the largest and most legendary jambands perform with the same enthusiastic energy that they’ll be bringing to almost 10,000 people at Red Rocks in late July. Not to mention, The Magic Beans, who are the festival’s name sake and consistent closers, were simply a group of guys going to see String Cheese a couple years ago without any inclination that they would soon become a band or later watch their idols play at their third annual festival.
That type of magic is interwoven into the very cloth that all of these musicians and moments are cut from, and it is undoubtedly what elevates Beanstalk beyond the realm of ‘just another jam band festival’. Josh Applebaum, bassist of The Magic Beans, performed a magic trick before even taking the stage. Transforming from a naked man into a flashy funk conductor, complete with a fake fox skin boa, a gold glittery fedora, and a shirt that shimmered like some sort of disco ball oil spill. “True story, I started the day off completely naked and people kept giving me clothes,” Josh laughs before lying back into a bass line and continuing his animated antics all over the stage.
Moments before The Magic Beans took the stage Scott Hachey seemed somewhat stressed, and as the lead singer of The Beans and the founder of Beanstalk, it’s understandable. But what’s unbelievable is how all that worry washes off of his face as he shifts from manager to musician, simultaneously clocking out and tuning in as he commanded the crowd through a stellar set of space funk.
Space funk is one of the many mad lib genre names that attempts to encompass a hybrid sound that synthesizes multiple influences and forms of instrumentation. After the American Babies concluded an amazingly long and lively set of what could loosely be labeled “rock and roll “ or creatively called “a tasty cocktail of rockabilly, blues inspired, highly improvised, guitar driven Americana”. As Al Smith, drummer of the American Babies, trotted off stage he classified their genre as, “ what just happened.” Which is as accurate an answer as any. Whatever it was, it was as hard hitting and complexly smooth as a good whiskey.
One of the bands you could confidently classify at Beanstalk was Juno What?!, who offered up their brand of full frontal funk to a gyrating audience like a sexy synth sacrament. The rambunctious crowd reacted to their flirtatious electro funk as if it was an aphrodisiac, and it teased them right into a climactic set from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Who served up an all-you-can dance buffet that blended Russo’s innately infectious rhythm with Tom Hamilton’s hypnotizing guitar skill. Although the band is driven by this dynamic duo, Russo remains the head chef as both drummer and front man. He has a magnetic presence that was powerful enough to captivate the sold-out crowd for the entirety of a three-hour set that confirmed that J.R.A.D. is ‘almost’ a cover band, and absolutely in a league of their own.
Any band can cover The Grateful Dead, and almost all did during Beanstalk, but few bands can truly channel the Dead’s sound and spirit the way J.R.A.D. did Saturday evening. Their unparalleled performance included rollercoaster renditions of classics like “Uncle John’s Band” and “One More Saturday Night”, which fit right into the riverside setting and aligned wonderfully with the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary, as everyone shared in what was far from just ‘one more Saturday night’. The Magic Beans enhanced the exceptional evening along with their traditional line-up, sharing the stage for the second time with the Horny Horns and original drummer Will Trask on alternate percussion. Propelling their performance into uncharted corners of the space funk galaxy, where they planted their flag in Bob Marley’s “Iron, Lion, Zion”, and took off into an epic “Jabu Jabu’s Belly” that reached peak party altitude before brilliantly bringing the groove back to gravity as only a seasoned space traveler can.
In an intergalactic sense, The Disco Biscuits are renowned astronauts; following in the footsteps of jamband pioneers to further explore the expansive possibilities of this odd otherworldly music. Having members Marc Brownstein, Allen Aucoin, and Aaron Magner in attendance was a small and significant step for Beanstalk, but seeing them take their talents beyond the Biscuits alongside a slue of special guests was one giant leap for musicianship. Both of their super groups, Hollywood Nights (ft. Clay Parnell of Particle/American Babies + Tom Hamilton of American Babies/J.R.A.D.) and The Magic Brownies (ft. Casey Russell and Scott Hachey of The Magic Beans), made a potentially hung-over Sunday high-spirited.
“The Magic Brownies set was like a moment of life completion, sort of a dream come true for both Scott and I who grew up seeing those guys,” Casey Russell exclaims understandably excited after performing with his idols, “they’re ‘it’, they’re the real deal, the ‘big buy’, and now we’re getting closer to a peer level with them which is crazy.” Ripping your pants off on stage is also crazy, but as someone who is actively headlining the very festival he started, Scott Hachey has full permission to go pant-less, so he happily did towards the end of The Magic Beans final set.
Sometimes magic pulls a rabbit out of a top hat, and other times it tears off it’s pants and presents you with a magnificent moment. One composed of a couple striking seconds where the world weaves it’s cosmically connected threads into the inexplicable patchwork of the present, and as the needle gives us a profound poke we realize it’s importance. Like seeing Scott stand center stage playing guitar in grey boxer briefs as a satisfied smile stretched across his face and he stared out at a crowd of family, friends and fans who all helped make that moment materialize.
It’s belief that brings magic to life; fifty years ago it birthed the Grateful Dead, and three years ago it began Beanstalk. Both bound by that belief and separated by time; growing out of and alongside each other like generational rings on a tree too big to wrap your arms around. A strong legacy and love of music linking them like stars strung together in an intricate constellation whose final form we can’t quite comprehend yet. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll know magic when you see it.
Kyle Hollingsworth is a man of many hats.
And although most people know him as the vivacious and versatile keyboardist for The String Cheese Incident, many people don’t know that he’s also a successful solo artist, a highly skilled brewer, a composer of movie and video game soundtracks, a studio wizard, a husband, and a dad.
Interwoven into all of these ‘hats’ is an ever experimenting and curious creativity. A trait that Kyle exudes in everything he does, and one that has allowed him to mature into a musical renaissance man with an insatiable excitement to make music. And whether he’s with The String Cheese Incident performing to a packed Red Rocks Amphitheater, or playing a solo show in a small mountain town, the same childlike smile stretches across his face as soon as his fingers flutter across the keys.
With every well-placed note and playful nod of his head it’s clear that Kyle truly loves what he does, and in turn everything he does is undeniably real and ripe with soul. You can even taste it in the beers he brews. By hosting his own festivals and having numerous collaborative beers under his belt, Kyle has proven to be a master of funk and fermentation. Kyle approaches both beer and music with a fun-loving and fearless attitude that seems to thrive in challenges and consistently find new ways to express itself. For the release of his third solo album The Speed of Life Kyle combined these two passions through his ‘Hop Tracks’ promotional campaign, pre-releasing three tracks which were all accompanied by a collaborative beer: Stone Brewery (Collective Distortion IPA), Boulder Beer Co. (Hoopla Pale Ale), and Cigar City with Rock Brothers Brewing (Happening Now Session IPA).
AKcreative caught up with Kyle on yet another uncharacteristically cold and wet May morning in Colorado as he was wearing his ‘dad doing yard work hat’ and probably his raincoat, to chat about returning from String Cheese’s recent ‘Band Camp’ in New Mexico, re-writing songs in Simlish, and performing to traffic as a kid.
AKcreative: How are you doing this morning?
Kyle Hollingsworth: Good, I’m actually in the middle of this backyard project and I decided to kind of tear up the lawn. I picked the wrong month to do that because now it’s like this humongous mud fest. It’s like a mini little Wakarusa in my backyard.
What other projects are you currently working on other then your yard?
Good question. The first thing I’m doing is I’m excited to ‘wear the hat’ that is being a dad right now. Which is exciting because I’ve been on the road a lot, but right now I’m just happy to be home and to be able to work around the house, in the yard, go biking, hiking, and get outdoors as much as possible. The reason I’m so excited to be back home is because I’ve been working really hard on another project called Incidental Animals, which is a project with me, the guys from A.L.O., and Jennifer Hartswick who plays trumpet with the Trey AnastasioBand. So that’s kind of another new ‘hat’ I’m wearing working with those guys and doing some writing together. We ended up playing with Phil Lesh at his place, which was a whole lot of fun and hopefully that connection will continue in the future and we can work with those guys and go up to Terrapin Crossroads again.
How recently was that?
I just got back and it’s been a hectic kind of few months. I was out with my own band doing some work on the east coast and then I jumped into this really cool String Cheese ‘Band Camp’ to some degree, like a retreat that we all went to in New Mexico. We all hung out there and did some writing for about a week. Then I jumped off of that and went immediately to the tour with Incidental Animals, so I’ve been gone almost a month and it’s nice to get back home.
Do Incidental Animals plan on playing any shows this summer or releasing an album?
Wouldn’t that be fun? I don’t think we have anything scheduled yet till maybe the fall. This summer all of our separate bands are playing High Sierra so there’s definitely a chance that some sort of impromptu moment could happen there, but I can’t guarantee that.
It was pretty astonishing to discover just how diverse and deep your list of projects is outside of The String Cheese Incident. I had no idea that you’ve produced soundtracks for a Warren Miller film and The Sims 2007.
I haven’t done anything like that in a while, but I’d love to do more of it. That was a good opportunity at the time, the Warren Miller film happened through a String Cheese connection since we had done a track for them. Then they were looking for some more, so I gave them some tracks from my first solo CD. Some were kind of created for that purpose and others were just already on the CD. The Sims video game project was one where I was kind of revamping a String Cheese song and putting it in Simlish, which is so much fun. I went back and re-sang “Close Your Eyes” in Simlish and had to get a vocal coach who called me and went through every line of the song in Simlish.
When you’re doing soundtrack work like that is it difficult to draw the line between enhancing the work with your music and potentially overshadowing it?
In this case they would say ‘we need an action bit’ or ‘here we’re jumping over a huge crevasse’, so I kind of just gave them music to work with that.
From what I understand, you started making music as the youngest of seven kids and all of you were heavily encouraged by your parents to take piano lessons.
Yea exactly, and encouraged is a good word, but it was pretty much mandatory.
Was there a particular artist or moment that inspired you to make music into a major part of your life and potentially pursue it as a career?
Well my father played piano, and I actually have this really cool black and white picture of him playing piano where he looks like me if you want it. He would play a lot at the house and I was really inspired by always having music around and taking piano lessons. Also when you’re 12 or 15 and you’re watching rock stars on TV it’s something bigger then life, and I think I was intrigued by trying to be in the limelight.
I was an actor when I was younger and did some local television shows and a couple commercials, so I’ve kind of always wanted to be a show-off or in the limelight. I think there’s a mixture of a passion I enjoy and also a drive to be on stage. As far as particular musicians I mean I grew up listening to The Beatles, like everyone does, and I had an older family so Paul Simon and all those sort of singer songwriters of the sixties and seventies. But in the end I guess The Talking Heads. They were the first group that was sort of ‘mine’ since all the other ones were my brothers and sisters. Also The Cars was another group that was ‘mine’, and I was like ‘I love The Cars, I want to play keyboards and play synth’ and then when I saw Bernie Worrell with The Talking Heads I knew that was it for sure.
You were 15 when you wrote ‘Racer X’ which is actually the lead off track on your most recent solo album Speed of Life. Is that the first song you ever wrote?
It’s pretty close. I have an old tape, which I should release because it’s ridiculous, of me playing when I was 12 years old with my first band. It was just a saxophone player who kind of played sax, me who kind of played keyboard and a drummer all playing on the front porch to passing cars, that was our concert. It was during those early years when I was writing mostly really simple old blues songs that ‘Racer X’ came out, and that was influenced by Billy Preston.
Your older brothers are responsible for introducing you to The Grateful Dead and Little Feet, who were both influential in inspiring you to play the style of music you do today and to initially take your craft from your parents piano to the stage. But when did you first ‘catch the funk bug’?
I think it’s always kind of been there, but without knowing what it was. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, through Latin music, funk, or rock, just pushing against time and meter. I’m trying to think who are some of the first funk acts I was introduced to, probably some of the early Stevie Wonder albums, and as I said before Bernie Worrell kind of turned my head a little sideways. There was definitely some cool stuff to be listening to when I was growing up.
After majoring in jazz piano in college then moving out to Colorado, how was it making the move from studying in a university classroom to creating funky music in Colorado with members of The Motet?
There was something during that time called Acid Jazz, which is basically jazz covers put to funk. So I was like this is great, I have a degree in jazz and I love playing funk, so lets just mix those two worlds. So there would be these Acid Jazz nights in Nederland and here in Boulder, and Dave Watts would be there along with a lot of great local players in that scene. It was a great way to improvise and get to know better players. That’s how that whole connection with The Motet came about, through all the funk and jazz that was happening at those Acid Jazz nights.
What was that time of your life like, moving out to Colorado, becoming immersed in that scene, and hanging out at Dave Watts’ house ‘The Double Dig’?
I was younger, it was like 20 years ago, so I was kind of like moving out of my mom’s house for the first time. I got this random car that barely made it to Colorado and I think it actually ended up dying somewhere on the way to Georgetown, which was the last time I used that car. It was awesome, and really one of those moments where you didn’t know what was happening in your life, but there were no worries as to whether it was going to work out or not, and I could always go home. But then meeting players who were kind of similar minded and just great people as well really made it a special time, it was very unique. I hope that scene is still happening here to some degree. I just remember at that time ‘The Double Dig’ was really cool, the guys from Phish would stay there because they’re friends with Dave and it would just be this huge center for people to connect. Kang was living in the basement, Travis was living in a tent, and it was pretty much a commune with like 15 men and women living there and all sharing their lives together.
(Continued next week in Part 2)
For tickets to Kyle’s upcoming solo shows and more information on this man of many traits, check out his website here, and for those fortunate enough to be at Beanstalk Music & Mountains Festival, The Kyle Hollingsworth Band (ft. Michael Kang) will be performing tonight at 9:30 (MST). Also don’t miss out on the last remaining tickets to The String Cheese Incident at Red Rocks July 24th-26th.
When Jack scaled the beanstalk he faced a deadly unknown and actual giants.
When Scott Hachey started Beanstalk he faced a daunting unknown and a giant mountain of work.
Both succeeded, and you could even say they created a legend in the process.
The 3rd annual Beanstalk Music and Mountains Festival starts this Thursday May 28th with a pre-party that kicks off a weekend overflowing with amazing music including: The Magic Beans, The Kyle Hollingsworth Band (ft. Michael Kang), Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, The Main Squeeze, Juno What!?, Iron Horse, American Babies, Kitchen Dwellers, Brothers Gow, and super-groups The Magic Brownies (ft. Marc Brownstein & Allen Aucoin of The Disco Biscuits + Casey Russell & Scott Hachey of The Magic Beans), and Hollywood Nights (ft. Aron Magner & Allen Aucoin of The Disco Biscuits + Tom Hamilton of Almost Dead & Clay Parnell of Particle). All of who will be live this weekend at the spectacularly scenic State Bridge Amphitheater in Bond, Colorado, which has housed Beanstalk since it’s inception two years ago.
Scott is a busy man; this weekend he’ll be both the headlining artist and organizer of Beanstalk, but when we spoke last weekend Scott was trekking through Indiana and fresh off of The Magic Beans late night performance at Cosmic Reunion in Missouri. Luckily in addition to being extremely busy, Scott is also extremely nice, so he was happy to take some time away from his hectic schedule to talk with AKcreative about Beanstalk’s organic origins, his favorite festival memories, and what to expect from this year’s festivities.
AKcreative: When did you have the idea to start a festival?
Scott Hachey: It basically came about through the State Bridge shows that we had. We did Campout For The Cause up there and then got talking with Doug Moog, the owner, and he was interested in bringing up The Magic Beans to do our own weekend, so I was like sounds pretty sweet, but I think we’re probably going to need some other bands to really pack the house and make it a family affair. So we decided to go with that, then worked with the budget he gave us and put together the first one.
How did the name Beanstalk come about?
We did a lot of brainstorming, but I don’t know who came up with it – I think I came up with it. It’s like Woodstock…you get it?
Even with your experience promoting shows, was it intimidating to actually act on your idea for Beanstalk and make it materialize?
I’ve promoted shows before, they’re always Magic Beans shows, but I also did an event at The Mishawaka called Jammin’ Up The Poudre Festival.
That’s yet another ingenious name.
(loud laughter) There has to be a hilarious pun in it or it’s not going to be my name. The first Beanstalk was easy because everything was included like the sound, staff and budget. We kind of changed the format the second year so that we could start bringing in all our own staff and all our own vendors. So it’s become more and more of a struggle, and this year was definitely a huge jump in size and management. But I’ve just kind of been learning as I’m going and it’s been good.
What’s one of the largest lessons you’ve learned so far?
I would just say be prepared. I want to make sure we’re prepared when we get up there for all the artists and people coming out. Always make sure you’re covering your ass and know no money is ever ill spent if it’s going to help with your preparation.
What’s one of your favorite memories from the last two Beanstalks?
Man, last year, Saturday night, when The New Mastersounds crushed it and then they sat in with us, that was a special moment for me. I just knew that Beanstalk was something people were really invested in and that it was probably going to be around for a little while longer and not be this passing thing.
What are your goals for this year?
The main goal for this year is execution. We want to make sure everyone leaves happy and that’s pretty much my main concern. Whether we end up on top in the business side financially is obviously a concern because I’d hate to lose a bunch of money, but what it really comes down to is making sure everyone leaves with a great taste in their mouth. We’re having like a lot of really ‘big named’ artists coming out too, so we just really want to make that they’re comfortable and leave telling everyone that they had a good time at Beanstalk. Same with the fans too obviously, we just want people to have a great time.
How do you go about creating the line-up for Beanstalk?
It’s kind of just bands we genuinely like and who will bring some people up, and also reaching out to see who wants to be a part of it. That’s a huge thing; we’re not a huge budget festival so every band that you’ll see there is playing for less then what they usually play for. We usually throw that around and see who is really committed to the idea of what’s going on and wants to have fun. When we reached out to Kyle (Hollingsworth) he was immediately excited about it, and that’s what I want. We’re not going to be able to pay the big bucks and there’s not going to be all these super awesome accommodations because it’s really about getting out to the mountains and just playing music for great people. If a band doesn’t understand that, then we usually don’t go with them and that’s kind of how we book. Seeing if they’re in on the idea, and also only booking good music too.
Any particular act you’re excited for this year?
Everything dude, but I’d say JRAD (Joe Russo’s Almost Dead). They’re super freewheeling like the Dead and have a lot of improvisational fields and openness to the show so it’s going to get crazy soupy up there.
If Beanstalk had an official motto or mission statement what would it be?
I’d say combining the awe-inspiring environment of The Rocky Mountains and the Colorado River with music, and kind of fusing those together until you can’t really tell the difference between the two.
Lastly, what would you like to tell all the fans that are attending this year?
I want to tell people to treat everyone like family, dress warmly at night, and know there’s no cell service so maybe bring Walkie Talkies or just go with it since that’s kind of the vibe up there.
For more information on Beanstalk Music & Mountains Festival or to purchase tickets, visit the festival’s official site here.
If art is alive it inspires.
It incites the imagination, encourages self-expression, transforms mundane into magic, and in the case of Rowdy Shadehouse it arouses all of the above, smacks you in the ass and gets you dancing.
Rowdy Shadehouse is both an amazing Denver based funk rock explosion and an attitude. Their music taps into an innate wildness where some primal part of the body wants to simply feel good, be free and share that sensation with others. Singer Jon Thursday not only embodies this mindset, he exudes it as if his aura is an aphrodisiac. He’s a natural born front man who resembles Anthony Kiedis, resonates Iggy Pop’s full-frontal energy and acts as if he was conceived to Parliament Funk and spawned at a Kiss concert. He’s backed by a band of equally epic and enthralling musicians that include: Ryan Chips on the saxophone, Mason Shelmire on the bass, Perry Abbott on the drums, and Weeze on guitar. Together they are a musical force to be reckoned with, treating the stage as if it’s a sacred breeding ground for funk, flesh and folly.
To anyone who can’t conceive of and enjoy the significance within their spectacle, Rowdy Shadehouse seems like a ‘joke band’, and with songs like “My Dick” and “Vagenis” being performed with outlandish on stage antics it’s clear how some could come to that conclusion. But the joke is on them.
There is musicianship backing the showmanship, a message fueling the madness, and an undeniable brilliance to any band that can have their crowd chanting, ‘take off your clothes and dance with me’ as that’s transpiring. They provoke the power and beauty of nudity the same way the Red Hot Chili Peppers did while performing with nothing but tube socks hanging off of their very public parts. And even if you don’t approve, you must appreciate anyone with the creative courage to bare all of themselves artistically and physically, especially artists who are able to encourage that expression in others.
Rowdy Shadehouse are performers and provocateurs, seducing their listeners like the shirtless, spandex clad, pied pipers of mayhem and merriment. They are performance art and funk music making wild love with one another till they spawn a whole different animal that should not and cannot be confined. An animal with a well endowed sense of humor, some serious musical talent and nice leather boots. On a mustard yellow love seat, as a half full bottle of tequila toured the green room and a large rubber dildo dangled down from the ceiling, AKcreative sat down with Weeze and Jon Thursday of Rowdy Shadehouse to talk about having chest hair ripped out on stage, balancing showmanship with musicianship, and expecting more from your music.
AKcreative: How would you define the word rowdy?
Jon Thursday: Rude – Occult – Worldly – Dominantly – Yes, or to lead without inhibition – recklessly.
How do you encourage rowdiness in your day-to-day life?
Jon: We encourage people to step out of what they know and into the rowdy shadehouse, which is a safe place to be your self and that’s what we stress more than anything. It’s not about who you are, man, woman, race, creed, religion, or whatever you believe in because at this point we’re all one existing together inside the rowdy shadehouse – and it’s a party.
Weeze: And it takes being uncomfortable to be comfortable with your self.
Jon: Yea, which is why we try to break that barrier with our sexuality
So the rowdy shadehouse is some metaphysical place or perspective you’re able to transport your listeners to?
Jon: With any luck, you have to believe though.
Weeze: We’ve had virgins on stage show their tits for the first time.
Jon: You have to believe though and once you take that step the rest is up to you and we just try to encourage that. Even the guy that’s thinking ‘oh, I wouldn’t be into that’, it’s breaking his barrier right there and talking to someone he doesn’t know. Maybe he’s trying to see their opinion, maybe they don’t like it either, but the point is they’re making a connection and that’s our message. I think every good band should have a message.
What do you want someone to say when walking away from a Rowdy Shadehouse show?
Weeze: Holy shit!
Jon: Wow…wow. We want you to express the darkest part of yourself, that’s just fine with us. I lay down on stage and some people rip out my chest hair, some people pinch my nipples, some slap me in the face, some people grab my dick – sometimes really hard. It’s all about expressing yourself however you want because I’m going to keep laying down in front of people and they can still do whatever they want. They can pet me, they can lick me, they can kiss me, they can spit on me for all I know and it’s a real vulnerable moment that I share with everyone. I give myself and we all give ourselves every show so you can see that we’re not joking. We want you to be your self, it’s ok, just do you and have a fun time
What’s the wildest thing you’ve witnessed as a result of encouraging that vulnerability and self-liberation on stage?
Weeze: Remember that one time that chick volunteered to come on a stage and I wouldn’t say Jon pinned her down, but she was very submissive and he was humping her from behind as she laid on her back and then I came and sat on her face as I had two slits in my shorts so it was like full ball smack.
Jon: He was sacking her in the face while I had her legs up like this and I was rubbing up against her. People have sex at our shows, in the crowd, and we actually encourage that – freedom in its rawest form. We’ll challenge anything, we’ll challenge every single venue to accept the way we are because we feel that we’re right and our message is right. If we were wrong or felt like our message was weak and didn’t have any validity or passion to it we would have given up long ago. I’ve been doing this for ten years, I started the band and if I didn’t think the message was real these guys wouldn’t be here, it’s something we believe in more then ourselves, it’s bigger than us, we accept it and we’ll just keep going. To some it may seem like a joke because I don’t know how you interpret something you’ve never seen or experienced before – I guess funny.
Weeze: Because they’re uncomfortable.
Jon: They’re like that’s funny, maybe not funny ‘ha-ha’, but it’s funny and to me when I hear people describe it as funny I know that they’re stepping out of themselves. That’s great that some people are coming here to experience themselves fully, just like you and just like we do.
Weeze: Honestly a lot of people are laughing because they can’t realize how good the music is since the show is so great and they just don’t know what to do as they’re like ‘I’ve never seen anything like that’, so they start laughing.
You’ve shared the stage with George Clinton and The Parliament Funk before and when they first started performing some people couldn’t take grown men in diapers and Technicolor costumes seriously, yet they were outstanding musicians and pioneers in promoting personal freedom. How do you maintain the balance between musicianship and showmanship so that you aren’t perceived as merely a joke band?
Jon: I wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t give it all every single show. Sometimes my dad comes to random shows and I’ll never know until he tells me the next day like, ‘hey I think I saw you slacking a little bit at this part’ or ‘ you could have picked it up here’. It’s always a struggle to keep it real and there are so many bands nowadays who don’t even give a fuck about what they’re playing and who don’t even care to be up there, lethargically singing as if we’re supposed to accept that. Expect more from your bands. We’re here to let you know that together we’re going to lift that bar up to the point where it needs to be, and we can still provide the greatest performance without nudity because it’s not really about the nudity or the sexuality of it, it’s about the release.
And to comprehend that release you must approach nudity as artistic self-expression and the ultimate form of putting yourself ‘out there’. (Mason Shelmire wearing no shirt, zebra striped spandex and a leopard print fur coat mounts Jon’s shoulder and continues to warm up on bass while slowly air humping)
Jon: Everyone’s scared, including me, to be vulnerable in front of people every day. We run our lives by vulnerability and what we try to do as a band is release that. This is what we’re about (turns his head and playfully bites bass player’s crotch), we’re about freedom – I love it, we all love each other, and without that love, without that bond or without that passion we wouldn’t all be here to spread that message which is the most important thing to us.
You’ve said that the credence of Rowdy Shadehouse is ‘we freed ourselves, follow us and we will free you too’. What artists or experiences have led you to your current freedom?
Jon: Believe it or not I actually saw LCD Soundsystem here at The Fox Theater about ten years ago and I didn’t even know who James Murphy was but after that I was a fan for life. It changed my outlook on music and after that I went to see The Cars, I’ve always been a huge fan of classic rock, and after that I was like you have to expect more from your bands, even legends like The Cars. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the business, you’ve got to keep going. Doctors told James Brown multiple times that he should stop dancing at the age of sixty, but he danced well into his eighties and then died a year after his last show. He danced at that show because he knew what it was about, he knew it was about the soul, the life that you put into the music and the music carries you. Sometime I walk out on stage and I can’t do it, or I’m just not ready, I’m scared, I’m shy, I’m apprehensive and then I hear the music and I let it carry me. We just want our music to carry you as well because if it can move you as a person it deserves recognition.
What particular front man initially inspired you to pick up a microphone hop up on stage and make music?
Jon: That’s a good one since there are so many great front men. Of course you’ve got the popular ones like Mick Jagger, James Brown and Smokey Robinson, but who inspired me most is Freddy Mercury – not only as a front man, but also as a human being. Towards the end of his life as he got AIDs and eventually died from it, at the last show he played he literally walked off stage every three songs to take a cortisone shot. The virus he had contracted was so powerful that he couldn’t even stand up straight, yet he continued with the show, played for two and a half hours, and he did it for us. Not too many bands do it for the fans anymore and that’s why we’re doing it for you. When I go to my knees, or spin around the mic, or jump up in the air onto my knees there are no tricks, it’s all me. Sometimes the next day I can barely walk, but I do it all for you because I care, because I should care, because that’s my job to care and I feel like that’s sort of been lost
What message do you have for any of your fans who may be reading this interview?
Jon: Expect more. Expect more from your bands. Expect more than we have, and also thank you for coming and sharing time together where we can truly be ourselves.
Rowdy Shadehouse will be releasing their second album “Vagenis” with a special show at The Bluebird Theater on Saturday April 11th – for tickets click here and for additional tour info check out Rowdy Shadehouse’s official site here. To get a glimpse of what a Rowdy Shadehouse show is like enjoy this video of the band performing their track “Built to Survive” at their last Bluebird Theater show.
In 2015 as things like privacy, personal freedoms and face-to-face interaction are all endangered; it’s comforting to know that funk is far from extinct. In fact, funk promotes fun, freedom and togetherness through dissolving the very illusions of difference that often lead us to define each other rather then dance with each other.
Euforquestra (pronounced yoo-FOHR-keh-stra) is at the forefront of this funk movement crafting music where many minds and musical tastes combine to create a sound that spins the globe of world music till it turns into a disco ball. With a backbone of afro-beat, funk flowing through their veins and reggae in their hips, Euforquestra has the body build of a dance machine and the perfect formula for a uniquely groovy genre blending sound. Euforquestra originated in Iowa City, Iowa then relocated to Fort Collins, Colorado, where all seven members have since spread out amongst the Rocky Mountains yet remained a tight, talented, ever-touring band.
Everyone in Euforquestra is a life long musician, most have musical degrees, and some have even studied their craft in countries like Cuba, Trinidad & Tobago and Brazil. The fact that they play an average of 120 shows a year and have still managed to release five albums is a testament to the unrelenting passion and road-tested endurance that enables them to consistently produce a large quantity of very quality music. Their most recent studio album Fire was funded through over 200 contributions to a Kickstarter campaign and produced by Kyle Hollingsworth of The String Cheese Incident. Kyle brought his wealth of talents along with an organic and open-minded approach to recording that allowed the band to thrive and play freely, which is part of why they moved in the first place.
Living in a land like Colorado constantly confronts you with peaks that tease the adventurous spirit and ache to be explored; as they’ve learned, some summits are snow capped and others occur on stage. Euforquestra continues to climb and show no signs of stopping. Luckily some of their seven members paused long enough to talk with AKcreative about what makes their local music scene so lovable, the Motet taking them under their wing, and keeping the funk alive.
AKcreative: You’re in the midst of a six-night run with Kevin Kinsella of John Brown’s Body and 10ft. Ganja Plant and you’re coming right off of a double header in Vail last night. How has the Riding Higher Still Tour been?
Mike Tallman: It’s been really good. It’s been a nice experience for us to learn a whole new batch of songs that we’ve never played before and work with somebody that we’ve looked up to musically for a long time. We’re towards the end of the run now so I feel like things are dialed in and we figured out how it flows and how to incorporate it into our regular music as well.
What have you learned from performing with Kevin Kinsella?
Austin Zalatel: We were just talking earlier today about how it has helped us develop our reggae pocket a little bit better because we’ve always kind of touched a little bit on reggae and this experience really deepens that I think.
You guys are originally from Iowa, and John Brown’s Body hails from New York. How were you introduced?
Mike: Kevin contacted our manager and said that he was trying to come out and do some Colorado dates. Originally he had a band he wanted to bring with him, Thunder Body, who played on his record as the rhythm section and they were going to come out but logistics just didn’t work out so our manager was basically like, ‘I’ve got some guys who can play reggae and are already in Colorado’. We’ve known a bunch of these tunes for years and years, and we all love the old John Brown’s Body records.
Bringing it back to your manager, you guys met Kevin through him but he also introduced you to Kyle Hollingsworth of The String Cheese Incident, who produced and was featured on your most recent album Fire. When was the first time that you met Kyle?
Austin: I think it was like the fall of 2009.
Mike: Yea, we did some dates with him in the Midwest.
Craig Babineau: That was before I was even in the band.
What was it like meeting him?
Mike: I was pretty into ‘Cheese’ in my younger days and I had met some of the other guys in the past, but hadn’t met him before. Kyle’s cool, we’re all very personable dudes you know, regular old people.
Craig: Yea, the more professional musicians or whoever it is you meet like that the more you see they’re just regular dudes. Some of them get up on their high-horse, but luckily most of people we’ve encountered and worked with have been pretty cool.
Especially out here in Colorado where the music scene is very friendly and fertile for collaboration.
Mike: It’s more of a communal vibe out here rather then a competitive one, and honestly part of the reason we moved out here was the first couple trips we took to Colorado when we played with The Motet and then they kind of took us under their wing and we got to be good buddies with that whole crew. Just felt really at home here.
How did Kyle contribute to the recording process?
Mike: There are several tunes on the album where Kyle did edit lyrics, or forms, or melodies, I can’t remember what all happened on what tune. He came to some rehearsals and was like ‘this tune is way too fast, why are you doing it like that’. He had some liberties and it was great for us you know since we had someone we could just ask. In the past when we were making records we’d spend time in the studio just going ‘what should we do here, should we go to the bridge here’, so this was nice because we could just go ‘Kyle what should do we do’.
Craig: He had a lot of input and the whole time he was on-point.
Did he encourage you to experiment?
Craig: Yea, we did a jam in the studio and all kinds of other stuff.
Mike: The last day that we were doing our rhythm tracking and everyone was playing together he was very insistent that at some point we do some improvising in the studio.
Craig: That ended up being some of those little interludes on the album (Moment #1, 2 &3). Those were spliced out of that 18 minute jam.
It’s pretty crazy and serendipitous that one of your first big gigs in Colorado was opening for The Motet since they are the ideal funk forefathers to usher you and your sound into the Rocky Mountain music scene.
Mike: They had us open the Fox the second time we ever came to Colorado and we were still living in Iowa. We had never even been in a room like that before and we were just playing bars constantly. So it was cool to be on a dedicated rock-hall stage and the Fox is legendary, it’s been around forever, and there’s a lot of history in that room. It was kind of surreal for a minute. I had to let it sink in.
I hope you still experience some surreal moments like that now.
Craig: Yea definitely, I’m trying to think of some shows in particular. This summer we played with Indigo Girls at Iowa City Arts Festival and that was to about 7,000 people or something. Then even having some of the guests, like last weekend in Denver we had Congo Sanchez from Thievery Corporation come up and play and the band that did this last tour with us, Miles Tackett and the Three Times, I think he plays bass in Breakestra but he plays guitar in his band, and he got up too. So there are all these bands that I’ve been listening to for a long time and like their stuff a lot, and here we are just playing with them on stage thinking ‘oh man this is pretty surreal’.
That seems to be a common occurrence out here in the Colorado music scene where lots of bands cross-pollinate very naturally.
Mike: Yea there are a lot of opportunities out here and a lot of people like Congo Sanchez (?) who just happened to be hanging out in Denver and came to our show. I saw him come in and was like ‘man we’ve got to get him up on stage’ and then we go back to playing a tune, I’m not paying attention, and I turn around and he’s already on stage playing.
Craig: I didn’t even realize it was him until you said something. He used to have some long dreads and cut them off recently, so I was like ‘is this some drunk guy that got up on stage, who is this dude’, and when I found out I was like ‘oh shit, it’s the drummer from Thievery Corporation who I’ve been listening to for a decade’.
Austin: It’s cool, and there are a lot of opportunities. We got to play The Fillmore for the first time a couple months ago and that was a big one for us.
Which characteristic of the Colorado music scene do you love the most?
Mike: A big part of it is definitely having the exposure to so much different music. First of all we get the opportunity to play with a lot of people and have opened for a lot of people who we have looked up to for years and years. But even if we’re not working and we’re just hanging out on a weekend there’s probably a show somewhere in Denver, Boulder or Fort Collins that we all want to go see and there’s Red Rocks all summer long. There’s constantly music that I want to see and be inspired by.
Craig: There’s a lot of music and it’s a lot of good music, which is awesome. There are also a lot of venues too and it’s not everywhere you go that there are places like The Ogden or The Fillmore and all these other awesome venues around. We’re kind of spoiled around here. There’s tons of abundance, even down to the smaller stuff.
Mike: We’re lucky for the quality of production and everything else around here. The bar is set very high in Colorado.
Despite living in and loving Colorado you still proudly keeps your ties to Iowa with events like your annual holiday benefit shows and self-started festival Camp Euforia (?), which will be in its twelfth year this summer. How has Camp Euforia evolved over the last 11 years from pretty much a party on a farm into a full-fledged festival?
Mike: It’s been gradual. From year to year if you look at it there doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of change, but if you look at what’s going to happen this year as opposed to five years ago it’s drastically different. It’s little steps, we figure out a little more every year. It’s a totally legit festival, but it still has an intimate feel to it and I think that’s what people really like.
Craig: I kind of came into it with an outsiders perspective because I didn’t go to like the first nine Camp Euforias. So I came right after joining the band and didn’t really know what to expect but it’s an awesome festival.
I heard that at last year’s Camp Euforia you had some rough weather that unexpectedly spawned a Motet/Euforquestra barn party?
Mike: Yea, Saturday night there was this torrential downpour that shut down the main stage, which is an outdoor stage, and all of our Colorado homies were all there and we were just sitting around on this farm with this massive storm blowing through. Our second stage is inside in a barn so we were like lets just take the gear over there and lets all play. Everyone just wanted to play, it doesn’t matter what, and us, The Motet, Juno What, and everyone else weren’t going to be able to play. We set up and did three or four Euforquestra tunes and then it just became a jam session with that little group of people and we did some Earth Wind & Fire, some Stevie Wonder and some Talking Heads.
Craig: It was packed in there, and everyone was pretty much trying to get in so it was just overflowing and sweaty. We had to carry all our gear across this field that was like a mud-pit, I think our bassist Adam fell in the mud, it was a shit show but it ended up being pretty sweet.
You guys have kept that close comradery with The Motet and you mentioned them ‘taking you under their wing’ around the time of you opening for them at The Fox. As your friends and mentors, what have they taught you about music, funk or even life in general?
Mike: Man, that’s a deep question. We met Dave and Scott, their former percussionist, and a bunch of those guys have done a lot of studying of Afro-Cuban music and Afro-Brazilian music, which is also something that we did a lot of earlier in our career. We don’t do as much of it now but it was a very big period for us, where we were doing this west-African stuff fused with this Afro-Cuban music and we met them when that was mostly what we were focused on.
They thought it was really cool and interesting that a bunch of dudes from Iowa were playing all this Afro-Cuban music, so I think that kind of spawned them taking us under their wing. They’ve given us lots of opportunities to open big shows and we’ve traveled together, toured, done festival bills, and thrown crazy barn parties. They were guys that we looked up to for many years and now they’re just our ‘homies’.
What are Euforquestra’s plans for this upcoming year?
Mike: We definitely want to record and release a little bit of music at some point this year, probably not a full album, but possibly a couple singles or an EP or something – that’s a big goal. We have some up coming shows that aren’t announced yet that we’re all pretty psyched about. It’s going to be a good year. Everything’s feeling really good
What would you like to tell your fans who are reading this interview?
Mike: We love you and thank you. We’ll keep playing if you keep dancing.
For info on Euforquestra’s current tour click here and for a daily dose of funk watch their music video for the title-track off of their most recent album Fire.
“I think my spirit animal is a unicorn laying on its back drinking champagne,” Hunter Welles says smirking as strands of springy blonde hair bob outside of his ponytail.
It’s under an hour till The Magic Beans take the stage, and as Hunter and the rest of his band mates sit sipping beers in the green room, it becomes clear that his spirit animal is an appropriate analogy for their band. The Magic Beans are the unicorn in a heard of horses, standing out by bringing both a unique sound and a magical live experience. It’s an elusive combination, yet they seem to so naturally succeed at it.
Their talent and passion have always been rooted in a foundation of friendship and nourished by the simple intent of making good music, sharing it with everyone, and having fun. They’re doing all of that, and consequently changing music from a pastime into a potential career – one that could follow in the same footsteps as some of the predecessors turned peers whom they’ve already shared a stage with such as The Disco Biscuits, Umphrey’s McGee and Lotus.
For a band that’s still somewhat in it’s infancy, The Magic Beans have accomplished a lot: releasing the double-album Sites and Sounds, performing an entire Talking Heads bluegrass set, hosting their annual Beanstalk Music and Arts Festival, collaborating on a Coffee IPA with Odell Brewing Company, and all the while touring across the country playing everywhere from a friend-filled fire pit, a Phish parking lot, a festival main stage or a string of sold-out shows in their native Colorado. Their organic and open-minded approach to making music together has spawned a self-titled style of “space funk”, which is a far-out blend of genres that orbits around an array of influences without being bound to any particular one.
Some beans are bound for burritos, but the truly magical ones sprout into something much more significant, and these beans are destined to do just that. On a snowy Saturday at a condo in the tiny ski town of Avon, Colorado, AKcreative sat down with The Magic Beans to talk about mountain lion defense systems, play with cell phone sound effects, and discover how they are truly a champagne guzzling unicorn.
AKcreative: 2015 just started and you guys are already hitting the road running; coming off of a four night opening run for Electron, two shows in New Mexico, and now bringing it back to Colorado to continue your Cool Beans Winter Tour. How did you guys get the chance to partner with Electron?
Scott Hachey: I guess it was through our manager Ryan Noel who also works with the Disco Biscuits, and we were also openers for the Biscuits earlier in the year. They heard of us because of Ryan and then through playing with them a couple times we’ve become slight friends with them I think.
Casey Russell: The way they put it we’re ‘homies’.
Scott: Yea, that’s what they said on stage, that we’re ‘good homies’, and they really wanted to make an impact when they played here and fill the rooms so we helped them do that.
Would you say you guys share a similar fan base or demographic as The Disco Biscuits?
Casey: Definitely, I would say a big part of our fan base are people who would call The Disco Biscuits one of their favorite bands. Maybe not a big part, but definitely a certain sector and there’s also some similarities between both of our live shows.
In addition to the Disco Biscuits you guys have paired with tons of other musicians who are considered legends in the exact same scene you’re becoming a part of, like Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, and The Motet. What has been the most memorable moment of your career thus far?
(Unanimously and without hesitation each member answers ‘Umphrey’s’)
Josh Applebaum: Yea, opening for Umphrey’s was pretty huge. We have all been listening to them since we started listening to live music and they’re honestly a huge inspiration for us so that was unreal.
Hunter Welles: Also Beanstalk (Music & Arts Festival)! The last Beanstalk was pretty epic and this year’s will be even more epic. I’m looking forward to it.
Scott: Playing with The New Mastersounds and the Particle guys was pretty cool. Luke Miller (Lotus) has played with us a few times too, which is just crazy because I’ve been seeing those guys forever.
Hunter: The Motet guys were a big deal for me to get to play with too.
Josh: That was a long time coming. We’ve known them for so long and always hoped to get to play with them but never had till then. (Hunter cues dream sequence sound effect as Casey makes note to recorder about his Afro)
When you were starting out as a band did you ever foresee sharing stages with acts like that and transitioning rather quickly from paying to see them to getting paid to play with them?
Hunter: Honestly I never imagined it, and it was never about that. Our path and where we’re going right now was never something that was imagined by any of us, except maybe Scott, since it’s been his dream.
Scott: I just wanted to be in a band, and people may not know that the first few years of us playing we played for free pretty much. Pooling all of our money together and saving to record this album that we just did a year ago, which I think says a lot about our crew and how it really was just for fun for a while, and still is, but now that we’re older and have a great fan base we’re really trying to see if we can make a career out of it.
Josh: Our fan base is the best part. People literally keep showing up show after show and there are some who have literally seen 50 or more of our shows, and they choose to spend their night or their weekends with us, which is so cool.
Casey: When we first started kind of getting a following at our shows we would see a bunch of our friends and then a few random people or friends of friends.
Hunter: That’s what was cool, is that it literally brought all of our friends together.
Casey: Exactly, it brought all of our friends together and now I’ll see a bunch of people that I don’t know and then in the back corner or wherever I’ll see all of our homies who have been there the whole time. They’ve seen the whole progression and we’ve obviously been there too so it’s still pretty crazy to us.
Cody Wales: For me it was weird joining the band and trying to get a grasp on ‘The Beans Family’. People would come up to me and be like, ‘dude I’ve seen you guys 45 times,’ and I’m just like whoa I don’t know any of these people, but I’m slowly getting there and it’s awesome.
Casey: We’re a family band and the fan base just started as a family thing. That’s what lead us to progress and now it’s just about trying to give back as much as we can to that, get as good as we can get, make it as big as we can, and help that family spread.
Hunter: I mean honestly one of my favorite things about the band is that I’ve met some of my best friends through playing music and all of our fans have been really cool people.
Scott: I agree with that. We’re all into the same things and we’re just fans too. I’ve met some of my best friends at our concerts, so we don’t even see them as fans. I think that word ‘fan’ is so weird and it’s just friends usually, unless we haven’t met yet.
How was it that you all first met and started making music? You recently posted about a monumental birthday party five years ago at your old mountain house west of Boulder, which sounded like it’s where the seed that has sprouted into The Magic Beans was first planted.
Hunter: That’s it! It was literally the first time we played for people.
Was it billed as a Magic Beans show or had you even come up with a name at that point?
Hunter: We were Mountain Lion Defense System. Basically I got a puppy and one of our roommates saw a mountain lion out on our deck so the idea was that we’re going to be a mountain lion defense system and protect my puppy by just playing jams all the time.
Had you guys actually practiced at all before that party or just loosely played music as friends?
Scott: I mean we played music together every single day, just jamming out, and I think we had maybe two songs at that point. It wasn’t really a performance, we had a party and all the equipment was just set up in one room so we just kind of billed it as we’re going to play a set of music. It was loose, but it was fun. Our first real gig was at the Fox opening for Springdale Quartet, and the first actual Magic Beans show with Casey in the band was at Quixote’s.
Casey: Outside, as it was raining and we played “What is Love?”
How did you guys come up with the name The Magic Beans after abandoning Mountain Lion Defense System?
Casey: There was this crazy homeless dude at one of those first shows just screaming about planting magic beans and we were like that could be a cool band name.
Could you tell when you first started playing together that, for lack of a better word, there was something ‘magical’ happening?
(Dream sequence chime sound effect – lots of laughter)
Casey: I would say that there was a definite chemistry, and I came in later so these guys kind of had everything already figured out. We all enjoyed the same things and when we played music together and hit a certain spot in a jam or something it was clear we were all on the same page.
Scott: You asked about when we played our first show, and at that point we would kind of just play a bunch of jams in different arrangements. When we decided to truly be a band, that’s when we had to actually write songs, so I feel like the chemistry you’re talking about in our improvisational parts was there way before the songs were since we’ve been playing together for so long.
What was the toughest part of transitioning from a group of guys who played at a party into a full-fledged band?
Scott: Deciding on a band name. The band name thing was tough.
Hunter: We were definitely unsure about everything when we first started.
Scott: We just knew we wanted to play shows so we needed a name.
Josh: Yea, we were Jamonster for a little while, but I’m happy with what we landed on.
Has your music always encompassed such a wide range of sounds and styles?
Hunter: Absolutely, we’ve gone through a lot of transition. When we first started we only had electrics and “Mind Over Matter” and “Underwater Oasis” were two of our only songs.
Scott: We had two areas in the house and whenever Josh came up we would do the electric thing, and once he left we would always be out on the porch picking acoustic. We probably did that even more then we played electric. I had songs written that were much more acoustic based, but then when we jammed out it was always way more fun and not very acoustic. To incorporate your last question that was one of the biggest humps for Hunter and I, tying to combine the acoustic and electric stuff and finding a tone on stage since playing an acoustic instrument in an electric band is pretty tough.
How would you describe your specific sound to someone who has never listened to The Magic Beans?
Casey: Space funk.
Would you say that is the defining term for your style, or is it a an ever evolving mix of space funk and other mashed up genres titles like ‘groove-grass’ or ‘jamtronica’?
Casey: That’s the really fun part about the music we play and depending on who is asking and where we are I’ll say things totally different and it will all be completely true. If it’s a guy who looks like he’s into country music I’ll say ‘we play a bunch of bluegrass’ and when we’re at a funk show I’ll say ‘we play a bunch of funk and other stuff too’.
Scott: It’s hard to describe our music because if you’re not in the live music scene you wont understand when someone says ‘space funk’ so sometimes I sugar-coat it for people and say it’s ‘bluegrass funk fusion’ and they’ll be like ‘oh that’s interesting, those are very different’ and I’ll answer ‘ yes, that’s why we’re fusing them’.
Hunter: We’ve got a certain vibe that we definitely try to bring into whatever genre of music it is that we’re playing. So even if it’s blue grass it’s still a certain type of ‘beans grass’ and if it’s funk there’s a certain way that we play it that’s never traditional.
Josh: You can’t say we’re a straight funk band, that’s the Motet. We’re ‘funky’ and we’re ‘bluegrassy’ sometimes so it’s become our own distinct genre.
Scott: Disco Stu says ‘We play party music yo’! (Cow mooing sound effect – eruption of laughter) Next question. (More laughing)
What are some of the ways that you guys attempt to stand out in a saturated music scene and not just be another average semi-memorable jam-band?
Casey: I would say we have an advantage because there are lots of different sides to our sound and that helps us stand out since it’s a big part of the whole jam-band, festival, or just live music scene, especially in Colorado. I think people get kind of bored of the same thing all the time, so it helps us stand out that we can kind of fill a couple different fixes of what people want in one night. People can stomp around and do the bluegrass thing, then get spacey, funky and all dance. But it is hard to stand out though; there are a lot of good bands out there doing similar things.
Hunter: I personally like to see bands that play a lot of different genres in one show. I’ll go to see a band sometimes, be like ‘wow, this is awesome’, and three songs later when it’s all sounding somewhat the same it’s still pretty awesome but I really like variety. I also like so many different genres of music that it’d be hard for me to just say ‘I’m going to be in a bluegrass band’.
Casey: Honestly I think that if I was in a different band that was just playing one thing I’d be bored. Maybe not, I mean if I was in the Motet I would love funk, but doing one thing just isn’t as fulfilling for me.
Scott: I came to a conclusion about a year ago as far as standing out in a competitive music scene, since I work so closely with it, and I’ve realized that it’s really important to kind of put on the blinders in some way and just hone the craft. That’s what I’ve been dedicated to these past couple years is trying to be a better musician and relying on what you know. It’s been hard to describe what we do, but it’s definitely been working, so I’m tapping into exactly what it is we do. It got a little out of control fast and we’ve gotten way tighter in this last year. We used to be really freewheeling in our live show with lots of energy coming off stage and we kind of learned to cap it up. It’s still that way we’ve just gotten more focused and understand that what came naturally for us before can now be controlled a bit more. Playing better music, that’s the way to get recognized. We’re already getting the gigs that we need to and I just want to see everyone enjoying themselves at our show, that’s the point, and if your music’s good you’re going to make it.
You seem to be succeeding with that mentality, and it’s a very genuine way of simply letting the music and your fans speak for themselves.
Scott: Word of mouth works great. If everyone has a good time they’ll be like ‘hey check this out next time other friend’ and that’s how it works right? I’m hoping.
What are you guys hoping to accomplish in this next year?
Hunter: Red Rocks would be nice.
Scott: We’ve done a ton of touring everywhere, so now we’re focused on picking out the towns where we’ve seen a response nationally and turning outward since we’ve been doing a lot in Colorado. Chicago, Minneapolis, Indiana and Austin are all places where we’ve gotten good responses so we’re going to focus on going there like three to four times in one year. Really making sure we build those specific fan bases as opposed to just trying to hit tons of different places.
To conclude our conversation, is there anything you’d like to tell your fans reading this interview?
(Short pause to think followed by loud cougar growling sound effect and more laughter)
Cody: That and thanks! We’re going to try our best to keep making good music and putting on interesting live shows.
Scott: No, no, no actually erase that last part – cougar growl!
To check out The Magic Beans in a city near you click here and to get a taste of some space funk watch this live video of The Magic Beans performing The Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” featuring Clay Parnell and Steve Molitz of Particle at 2014’s Beanstalk Music and Arts Festival.
(Interview from 3/8/13)
Asking Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog a question is like tossing a kite into a tornado of thoughts. Answers turn to rants, memories generate musical epiphanies, and rather than simply skimming the surface Scott decides to dive right in. Skinny-dipping through the truth with words soaked in a sincerity that’s both candid and clever.
This poetic perspective is interwoven into everything Scott says and sings, and it’s what elevates Dr. Dog’s songs from simply enjoyable to emotionally enlightening. Whenever your band begins to call up comparisons to The Beatles you know you’re doing something right, and although Dr. Dog isn’t nearly as big, they still share the same eclectic style and superb songwriting abilities as the fab four.
Their music is a raw and rambunctious mix of lushly layered harmonies and pulsing rock-driven instrumentation that is both infectiously catchy and cleverly composed. AKcreative caught up with Scott before his show at The Boulder Theater to chat about the innocent inception of his band name, touring with My Morning Jacket, and how a couple of ‘dudes washing dishes’ turned into Dr. Dog.
AKcreative: Where did the name Dr. Dog come from?
Scott: Well there’s no really grand reveal to that one. As I remember it Toby and I were 18 and we had been playing together since we were in eighth grade. Then I moved away my senior year of high school and after that moved right back. During that whole year apart I knew it was a disaster. I knew I was going to get back as soon as I got out of high school and my family moved away. We just held on tight to this thought we had of making music and knew that we would do it someday. So when I did come back I had all these songs and all these recordings from my house and he had the same. It had this extra pre-tense about it because we’d been apart and now we were back together. Here are our songs and there was a lot of focus in this weird insular world kind of way so we literally had a conversation like what’s our band name? I suggested Dr. Wing, he said what about Dr. Dog and I was like ‘ok cool’, that was it. There’s nothing too cool or exciting about it.
From the start it just felt right and I fully understand some people not liking it. I think if I were to look at it objectively as if I just came upon this band called Dr. Dog I don’t know that it would immediately resonate with me. It is kind of loaded in some pretty corny ways, but within our own little world it has always felt perfect.
My Morning Jacket is a classic example. When I first heard of them was probably after their second album At Dawn had come out and right when I met my girlfriend at the time she gave me this tape that had At Dawn on one side and Tennessee Fire on the other by this band My Morning Jacket. I still remember my first impression of that band name was so soft and almost ‘emo’ or something and I didn’t like it. But as soon as the music found a place inside me the name then took on its own color and life. It builds its own meaning once you understand what it really is a title for.
As a fan of My Morning Jacket how was it to suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly tour with them in 2004?
It was very unexpected. I mean touring in itself was an unexpected thing at that point in time. Just doing it as a band was something awesome and totally out of left field, like a dream come true. It did a lot for our band for sure. First and foremost it structured our band from the inside. We had been having a lot of people associated with the band and the identity of the band back then was a loose cast of characters. With a tour on the table it forced people to be like is this something I really do or not. Some people fell away and others really rose up, that’s what gave us our first solid line-up. That was really influential and we road that line-up out for five or six more years. Toby and I were both in a lot of bands just because that was the deal at the time you know, you’d start bands out of a joke with your buddies. We had played a lot of shows at crappy bars in the Philly area, but Dr. Dog had played so rarely live and they got us acclimated with that. It was entry point into playing every night and already having been a big fan of theirs then seeing them live every night, witnessing what they bring to the live show and how much they give every night along with getting to know them as people and realizing that these idols of ours were very relatable people. There just dudes like us, they’re totally reasonable, they truly care about what they do, don’t take themselves too seriously and all these things that were real positive affirmations in the course that we were trying to set out for ourselves. So we couldn’t have asked to tour with a better more influential group then them. They just laid it out unconsciously and their actions speak much louder than any words would.
I’m pretty sure you were touring with My Morning Jacket around the time of your album Toothbrush, which was the demo that got handed to Jim James and sparked your sudden success.
That band has influenced us on so many levels and at the time we didn’t have any albums, we just had tons of recordings and there was never the notion that an album was necessary. We weren’t functioning with any sort of expectation; we were just doing our thing. So when My Morning Jacket was coming to town on tour that same girlfriend of mine who had turned me on to them in the first place was like you should throw a bunch of your Dr. Dog songs onto a CD and we’ll bring it since she knew them and has seen them play at a tiny bar when they performed to 20 or 30 people. She had put them up in her house and stuff when they were really coming up so she was friendly with them and anticipated hanging out. So we did and took hours of cassettes over to her dad’s house because he had a way of digitally converting them. We put ten or so songs on a couple CDs, decorated them all up and everything just as something to pass on and of course dong that lead to the tour and many more things. It all came about just to throw a mix-tape together for Jim James and it ended up being I guess our first album.
We did the tour and were playing a bunch of songs, none of which were on Toothbrush. We had a whole new set of songs that we hadn’t recorded and Toothbrush was kind of a four-track album that wasn’t so reflective of our band. We came home from that tour and they had already asked us to go on another leg a couple months later so in preparation for that we took the money we made from our first tour and bought a nicer microphone and some studio monitors. Hooked it up to the same eight-track we always had and recorded our new music as a way to have something else for sale while we were on tour and also something that would be a little more like our live show.
Even with the making of that album My Morning Jacket was a catalyst for the intentions behind Easy Beat. When we went back out on tour with Toothbrush and Easy Beat for sell, still making them ourselves, that just ended up leading so many other things. It lead to us getting an article in The New York Times, it lead to our manager finding out about us who’s still our manager to this day and who has helped us out immensely. As soon as he got involved he was like ‘I’m going to get you to South by Southwest and we’ll try to get you a booking agent’. We didn’t have a record deal of any sort whatsoever so he started connecting us to that, pretty much getting the gears going and all of that was a direct result of My Morning Jacket.
Is there anything about those early experiences with them and the hardships of striving to succeed as an artist that you try to keep alive in your current music?
That’s hard to say because I don’t think we have yet to experience a point of distraction. For whatever reason, which I’m highly thankful for, we just kind of still work in the same way we always have. You apply yourself in an ever-shifting context. So far we haven’t really had to stop and prioritize things to say what we’re about or what we’re supposed to be doing. It must have something to do with the type of dudes we are because we don’t really buy into any sort of myth that we’re trying to propel. There’s no bigger picture other than the simple motivations of any given day and the desires you put into writing a song and playing a song. I think our ability to stay focused on the thing that got us here in the first place has only been enhanced. We’ve come this far while we shied away from a lot of aspects of certain career choices we gravitated towards others and all of those things in an almost intangible way have instilled values that were there at the beginning but not yet defined because they didn’t need to be. We were just dudes washing dishes and enjoying this side of life musically. I think that as time goes by and this structure starts to build around the band as this business or something like that, all the efforts that have gone into that have specifically been there to foster that initial idea. We never stepped outside of the boundaries of what we were comfortable with and the more you do that over time the more you start understanding yourself, what drives you, and what works for you so that as those decisions come up they become easier to make.
For us a lot of it does come down to specific sort of boring things like what’s your process like and since we have always recorded ourselves and still very much enjoy that there’s kind of an internal logic that you just respond to with that. We’re never like what’s our next move or where do we go from here?
Exactly, you wouldn’t want to constrain or cage your creativity in any way. Yet you still need some sort of structure, like the banks of a river, which will result naturally from your actions and give them a specific place to pour into without limiting anything too much.
That’s a nice way to put it.
In that sense, what was it like making Be The Void and reverting back to your old style of self-sufficient at home recording as opposed to big name producers and professional studios?
That’s a great question because it lays out exactly what I was just trying to describe. Because this is one of those instances involving things we’ve done enough of as a band to gain more self-knowledge. To put it quickly Shame, Shame was our first record with ANTI Records, which was a much bigger label then what we’d been working with, Park The Van, which was started by our friend. We kind of grew and developed with that label, but then we stepped into this very well established label and they obviously had more of a mechanism or system for how to do things and more money.
At that point I feel like we were definitely unable to expand the banks of that river on our own. We had just been floating in that river for too long and it was time. We’ve taught ourselves a lot and gone from radio check mics and cassette tapes to a 24-track studio with pre-amps and compressors. We’ve slowly acclimated ourselves to all these ways of working, did that for a while and it felt like we hit a ceiling there. So the natural idea as well as what Anti could bring to our table made us like lets find someone to work with and step outside of our comfort zone. That’s what we did for Shame, Shame and in many ways it was cool and did exactly what I hoped it would through shedding a different light on the process and offering new ideas. Most importantly it showed us what we weren’t willing to step into or get involved with. So we ended up kind of backing away from that and finishing Shame, Shame on our own. As soon as we finished that album our drummer left and that’s right when Eric Slick and Dimitri Manos joined. That’s been a new era for the band and they’ve really solidified the essence of what the band was.
If there was ever a point in the history of the band that we strayed or got wishy-washy and unsure about where we were or what we were doing it was right around Shame, Shame. The completion of that album and those two dudes joining put things right back on course. Then we got to tour with them for the whole cycle of that record and get them kind of in the groove feeling the changes that were coming as a result of this new input. So by the time we came to Be The Void they were already well-worn and in the band. Everyone’s enthusiasm was at a maximum and we said to ourselves ‘ OK we don’t need to work with any producer or go to any other studio, we’ve got so much new stuff on the table. Then there was this guy Ben Allen who is a producer down in Atlanta and he was actually pursuing us. He’s cut his teeth in the hip-hop world and done some interesting stuff with Animal Collective so he’s clearly this really well versed and extremely experimental open-minded sort of producer. So even though we already said we weren’t going to work with anyone else I thought that we might as well give this dude a shot. We went down for about a week making no real commitment other than just going down there, hanging out, recording and seeing how it felt. He was pushing us and knowing everyone in the band as I do it was interesting to see the effect he had, in a very graceful way.
With his presence somehow it just seemed to make people set aside stuff and challenge themselves more. For three or four months before we were about to head down to Atlanta in the back of my mind every night as I lay there going to bed I’m thinking ‘I don’t know if we should do this’. That seems very promising and that could very well make for an awesome album but I think that right now we just need to focus on ourselves because we have so much within our selves and together we’re just full of ideas and energy.
It felt kind of negative to walk away from it, but the reasons were not because it was sort of stressful doing it that way there was just so much inside of ourselves. The point in all this is the recognition and affirmation of that thing that I always felt when we were just starting. We’ll do this on our own and we’ll do it with a lot of joy and excitement. In many ways making that decision was both a renewal and a reminder of something that immediately tied me back to the earliest days. The way we talked about doing Be The Void, very overtly, was to have one foot in the past and another in the future of our band. We felt that connection to the freedom and the experimentation of our early days. Combining that with all the experience we’ve gained as musicians and this newly captured excitement about playing live shows with a more dynamic and powerful sound. If you want to capture that good feel and essence of a live performance you do have to allow for more sonic fidelity. The process and sort of design going into that record was, not too sound overly romantic, but that the world our band inhabits doesn’t exist, it’s with in these walls.
All we’re accountable for is this very moment and it is very important that within this moment we all feel 100% comfortable and totally in control. It’s not just this romantic idea, there’s strategy, and when we went into the studio we got rid of a lot of crap, we made it feel new, recorded hours of music in there, and by the time we went to do that album it felt like a new place. The basic question was what do we do and what’s the next step for our band, not commercially or in some sort of objective way. In essence it’s funny how you can go through all these complicated shifts only to arrive at this necessity to make the same exact decision you’ve made over and over and over again. Yet it feels like a new decision because the world around it has changed.
There’s this sort of spectrum that Toby and I have always liked to understand Dr. Dog in, on one end there’s this really fundamental musical chops and a respect for the tradition of music. Not feeling the need to think of your self as an artist creating some break from the historical narrative of music or whatever, and on the other end is complete abstraction and the notion within music that there are realms that really have nothing to do with anything else and they kind of create their own logic. The band was formed on that idea. If you look at it one-way Toby and I are basically one dude at this point and although there are differences, they come together to create.
How has the addition of Eric Slick and Dimitri Manos influenced Dr. Dog?
That was the well-balanced meal we were looking for. Eric and Dimitri joining really re-affirmed and actually enhanced the two primary pillars that we were built on. Expanding the experimentation and abstraction of what is essentially psychedelic music for lack of a better word. Music that just evokes some sort of imagery or feeling that transcends the sum of its parts.
Is there anything you’d like to tell your fans?
Stay tuned because we’re going to keep coming out with new stuff. We just put out an EP (The Dr. Dog Fall Sampler), we’re going to put out another collection of older material later in the year, and then get started on our next record, which I’m really excited about. Be The Void was our first album with Eric and Dimitri and by the end it really showed me how the collaborative efforts of the band are at an all-time high. I think I rely more on everyone in the band than I ever have before.
When you’ve got the full force of a band behind you I think it expands your imagination for melody, phrasing and things like that, which become more and more compelling. The next album will be one inch closer to our live show.
Dr. Dog is currently touring across the country in support of their most recent album Live at a Flamingo Hotel. For ticket info click here and for a taste of their truly unforgettable live show watch their most recent music video for “Heart it Races”.
(Article previously published at WhenTheMusicsOver.net on 11/18/14)
Twiddle makes you smile.
Just saying it generates a grin, like some sort of oddball onomatopoeia from a Dr. Seuss story. And when you witness the band’s progressive, eclectic and high-energy mix of music live, you’ll inevitably dance and smile till you’re sore.
Twiddle hails from Castleton, Vermont but call Colorado a second home. Their show on November 13th at the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins, Colorado kicked off a four-night rocky mountain run that featured sold-out shows at The Bluebird Theater in Denver and The Fox Theater in Boulder. These Colorado concerts are part of the last leg of Twiddle’s 39 show, Chilled Monkey Brains Fall Tour that included recent dates alongside Papadosio, The Werks, Zoogma, and an array of surprise guests.
Their live show is as unpredictable as it is undeniably fun and free-flowing. Specific songs showcase the rock edge of Umphreys McGee, while others wander whimsically like a Phish show, reggae songs spark notions of Rebelution, and if you close your eyes during any of their acoustically-driven jams it sounds like Nahko and Medicine for the People. But Twiddle is much more than a collection of comparative bands. They cook up a gumbo of genres so tasty that trying to pinpoint a particular ingredient or influence would take away from the overall flavor. A unique flavor they describe as, “3-dimensional music,” that, “obliterates the laws of improvisation and spins tall tales over an intricate soundscape of hi-def shred.” Which is about as accurate and abstract as it gets when attempting to describe the music they make.
The captivated crowd is much more concerned with dancing to their music than defining it, and the fun-filled family atmosphere at The Aggie Theater was a warm and welcoming escape from the early winter chill outside. “Thanks for coming out on this cold cold night,” says lead singer and guitarist Mihali Savoulidis, looking even more like a lion as his long locks dangle down over a large lion face t-shirt. To his left, bassist Zdenek Gubb is shoe-less in his trademark beanie bouncing up and down on a hyper-orange moon mat as Brook Jordan sits smirking uncontrollably behind his drum set and Ryan Dempsey delivers killer keys while wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle onesie. The entire band appears very at home on stage; exhibiting a combination of comfort and comradery that can only come from a foundation of friendship and tirelessly touring across the country. There are times throughout the set that seem as if we’re witnessing the type of magical jam session that only exists in an intimate home studio set up. It’s immediately evident that every member of Twiddle is a masterful musician and their ability to adapt seamlessly to any style transforms seemingly ordinary songs into exciting, ever-evolving musical experiences.
With this tag-team of talent and tenacity, Twiddle is clearly the type of band that will be around a long time. They’re not only surviving, but thriving within today’s constantly changing music scene. Proving that amongst an almost endless sea of ‘jam bands’, quality will always triumph over quantity. Thus, Twiddle has transformed from the funny named band near the bottom of a festival bill, into the type of band that plays the main stage and makes instant fans out of anyone who happens to hear them.
In fact, most people in attendance at The Aggie Theater credit a trusted friend or a random festival for introducing them to Twiddle, and like myself, almost everyone has turned that initial introduction into many more shows and stories of the band treating them like family instead of fans. Some of that family even flew out from as far as Vermont and Massachusetts for this string of shows, and their fanaticism is well warranted. Their efforts were rewarded with rowdy covers of Sublime’s “Smoke 2 Joints” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” as well as fan favorites like “When it Rains it Pours” and “Frankenfoot”; for which they brought out local guitar prodigy Jaden Carlson who walked on stage sporting a Boba Fett helmet and ripped through technical riffs as if her talent truly came from a galaxy far far away.
If you missed out on Twiddle’s epic rocky mountain run, don’t stop smiling, just make sure to see them in a city near you as their Chilled Monkey Brains Fall Tour comes to a close with the five following shows:
11/19 – Johnstown, PA @ Ace’s Lounge
11/20 – State College, PA @ Levels Nightclub
11/21 – Washington, D.C. @ Gypsy Sallys
11/22 – Baltimore, MD @ The 8X10
11/26 – Fairfield, CT @ Stage One
For tickets and additional info click here and if you’re still undecided on how to ring in 2015 the boys will also be playing The Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts on New Year’s Eve alongside Dopapod.
Catching up With Conspirator
It’s a frigidly cold Colorado night as plumes of smoke scurry away with the wind whipping through the back alley of The Aggie Theater. Marc Brownstein of Conspirator stands shivering amidst streaks of snow answering a fan’s question about his age by saying, “it’s like the wind-chill factor, I’m almost 40 but it feels like 25.” As that iconic smile stretches across his face, it’s evident that Marc embodies this youthful, optimistic outlook, enabling him to both possess the wisdom of a jam-band veteran while preserving the ambition of a musical rookie.
Marc started the Disco Biscuits back in 1995, but despite all his accomplishments through the years he says, “I don’t feel bored at all making music.” This creative restlessness has resulted in him starting up multiple musical endeavors (Conspirator, Younger Brother, SuckerPunch), co-founding a non-profit to promote voter registration (HeadCount), establishing and headlining a highly successful music festival (Camp Bisco), composing a rock opera (Chemical Warfare Brigade), hosting a radio show (Jamtronica on Sirius XM), and remixing hip-hop albums (Ski Beatz vs. The Disco Biscuits).
Marc’s current focus is Conspirator, which has gradually grown from being considered a side project into a full-fledged band with it’s own sound and fan base. “I’m starting to see it turn from a thing that our old fans used to come to see just as a novelty because we were in it, into really having it’s own identity,” Marc says. “We’re trying to do something completely different and when you’re starting something new, you don’t know if it’s going to be popular. You just put your heart and soul into it, then promote it and believe.”
That constant belief and promotion has paid off with the recent release of Conspirator’s first studio EP, Unleashed, as well as a 28-city tour and a full festival season this summer to back it. There’s no telling what their future holds, but with that much momentum, it’s clear that they don’t plan to slow down or stop anytime soon.
Newton’s first law of motion states that bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, but when Marc Brownstein rests, he tends to make more music. Consequently, Conspirator was born in 2004 during a brief hiatus from touring with The Disco Biscuits, when fellow Biscuit, Aron Magner, who Marc refers to as his “musical soul-mate,” first proposed the project. The idea took off and allowed them to guide their well-honed creative chemistry in a different direction. This departure from The Disco Biscuits developed a unique sound that strays away from a jam-oriented style, yet maintains the same spirit of eclecticnes and excitement. “We wanted to make electronic music with an element of surprise,” Marc says, “playing with the beat and adding in all kinds of stuff that all comes together to create a whole new genre.”
Genre is a tricky word when it comes to Conspirator. Their music encompasses a wide range of rock and electronic elements that fuse together to form a sound that orbits around, “a heavy, electronically produced core with a skillful and melodic homage to instrumentation.” Marc is quick to sight Simon Posford of Shpongle as one of the forefathers of this type of live electronica. “ He is a huge influence of mine and also one of the guys who gave us the idea that this was something that could be done.” Conspirator continues to build off of what Posford pioneered and their diverse audience is a testament to the way their music bridges genres.
Conspirator’s crowd encompasses all ages and types of fans. Ranging from middle-aged men who hired babysitters to come to catch a couple of their favorite Disco Biscuit’s play, to neon-clad college kids unaware of the band’s past. “Sometimes we’ll meet kids and have to explain to them who we are,” Marc says, “That’s my favorite thing, people just being there and loving a new band when they don’t know about our other band or the last 20 years.”
Having just turned 40, the topic of age is inescapable, yet rather than pondering the past, Marc chooses to focus on the future. When asked about his opinion on age, Marc replies, “To answer your question, Phil Lesh just turned 73 the other week and that guy still throws down hard for four hours. I see him as inspiration to be somebody who just has the longevity and also Miles Davis as somebody who was not afraid to completely switch things up and change the way they make music.”
While Marc may disprove Newton’s first law of motion, he personifies the theory that the only constant is change, and also ‘haters’. “Don’t let the haters get you down, because if you’re going to be anything, you’re going to have haters. Since before the Internet, there were haters, but you shouldn’t give up if somebody else is telling you it’s not there. We had an OG hater back in 1997 who was at a show and said, ‘I’m in the music industry and you guys don’t have it. Go back to school and don’t quit your day jobs,’ which just fueled us and we were like ‘Screw that guy, we’re going to be successful on our own terms with our own sound’.” Conspirator has managed to transcend the haters, and thanks to a positive and progressive attitude, they’ve prevailed. “It’s all tied into dedication. That’s the key-practice hard, never give up, and be yourself. ”
To view a digital version of this article in issue #3 of Spinr Magazine click here (pg.12).
This essay is a reflection on my time traveling abroad in New Zealand, which was written in the style of a scrapbook/journal for my Readings in Nonfiction class at The University of Pittsburgh in 2010.
It may contain a copious amount of commas, but it also gives a raw heart-felt glimpse into my many experiences and epiphanies while wandering my way through New Zealand. I hope it’s as eye opening as it is enjoyable.
Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud
* February 11th 2010*
Drive: Bethlehem, PA to Philadelphia International Airport (2 hours/76.9 miles)
Fly: Philadelphia, PA to San Francisco, CA (5 hours/2,915 miles)
* February 12th 2010*
Fly: San Francisco, CA to Auckland, New Zealand (13 hours/6, 533 miles)
I was someone studying abroad as an alternative, one that actually allowed me to pack it all up and put it all off without my parents worrying. I imagined being abroad as a balance between responsibility and revelry, where I could travel as a student and still tune into something more meaningful than the melancholy drone of daily life.
Within fours days ‘down under and over a bit’ I drank cheap pink champagne from a water-bottle while dancing with merry monks on a crowded street corner chanting something about Krishna, slept in two hostels, skateboarded down the country’s busiest street, chased a herd of sheep, white water rafted down a twenty-one foot water fall, went tubing through a cave covered in glow worms, and wandered around the thermal pools of a native Maori village. I was exuberant and living a life where love was ever-present in each experience. Where each second spilled over with potential and wonder eclipsed all evidence of worry. Integrating imagination and instinct into actions; awash in the way splendor seems to reflect off of and reverberate through you.
I was truly happy having found harmony between my realizations and my reality in a land where there was beauty budding all around, ready to stir the sleeping poet to his full potential.
In Language Literature and Desire, one of the four classes I took every Tuesday, we discussed Empiricism and how through observation and experience you can create truths about the world we live in and about George Byron, the British poet who was a founding father of romanticism. Also how Romanticism arose as a reaction to the industrial revolution, rebelling against social norms and the scientific rationalization of nature.
The power point projected a poem entitled “She Walks in Beauty,” and the sunlight seeped past the blinds reminding me of the beauty beyond the walls that close off the classroom. My notes were much more of a creation than a copy. In my margins next to sketches of surfboards and barreling waves I wrote “Education is a cookie-cutter for individual imagination” and “Why eat stale bread when I can bake a loaf of my own?” My new found life as a nomadic surfer had shown me a learning propelled by personal passion, which was guided by a genuine interest in the way the world was unfolding under my feet. I was overwhelmed by the confines of conforming to a curriculum, wanting to live and learn to a different drum – discover Alan Watts, be blessed by Ginsburg, ramble and rant like Kerouac, while re-writing words of wisdom from J. Krishnamurti!
“Intelligence is the capacity to perceive the essential, the what is; and to awaken this capacity, in oneself and in others, is education. It is only when this creative intelligence is awakened in the individual, that there is a possibility of a peaceful and happy life.”
On the cover of my green banana paper notebook was a ‘100% REAL’ sticker stolen off of an organic orange juice container and a ‘HELLO my name is SuperTramp’ tag written with magic markers. It went with me everywhere, starting with my first ferry ride to Waiheke Island where I wrote:
Yea to Naysayers!
My future is not a flicker
It’s a flash
A shooting star streaking across the sky
Simultaneously seeming to free fall and fly
A single star
Aligning with me
The sky showing me the magic
Of what it means to be
Below there is beauty
Between the trees and concrete
Where each day’s divinity
Allows Heaven and Earth to meet
Do not fear or fight
Stand strong in truth and love
Create a world for everyone
To transcend and rise above
Searched for sand dollars, and swam to an uninhabited island maybe a mile or so off shore. Popping-champagne at sunset, so much fun I forgot to pack my clothes, naturally naivety had not imagined the idea of cold nights. Dug a hole about 3 feet deep in the sand and started a fire for everyone. Burning through my bushel of bananas and 200 grams of turkey turned out to be a lot less than my mental metric system made it out to be. Played Pretty Lights while talking to a man from Christchurch about sacred geometry and going to Mexico for a vision quest.
Neon colored clouds, hyper, highlighter colors – a peach and purple sunset. Our campsite consisted of an L shaped log, bleached by the sun. This really is the famous right hand break from The Endless Summer.
Coromandel Peninsula –
Cramming into a compact car, made even more cramped by the five people and loads of luggage, still sitting with a six-pack of Lion Red beer between my legs.
Hiked many miles in the dark and stumbled upon a bonfire on the beach with a sign that said “ALL FIRES PROHIBITED” ignited in the center of it as people danced around as freely as the flame.
Used dinghies from their sailboats to bring in a generator and a large speaker system along with enough petro and piss to keep the party going through the night. Met a captivating character named Roger as I helped him drag his dingy onto shore; waves of ink black salt water washing over our bare feet revealing the man from the front of the ZigZag package permanently inked on the top of Roger’s right foot. Followed by sitting in a circle around the fire passing plums, apples and fijoas from his home orchard.
Base of rugged rocks berried beneath blue water and white sand, jetting out of the ocean, smoothed with water, washed over, eroded with every tide of time, yet standing steadfast as the solitary vestige of some larger land mass that must have been there before I was. Our tents are tucked behind the branches of Banyan trees that created a curtain of green on the backside of the beach. I wet my toothbrush with water dripping off of a root dangling down from a tree that clutched the cliff above me and stretched out over the sea.
“Satisfy yourself first then the reader cannot fail to receive telepathic shock and meaning – excitement, by the same laws operating in his own mind.”
Bay of Islands –
Boarded a bus to Paihia, a port-town in the Bay of Island where I will catch a ferry to the island of Russell and realize I wasn’t right about the big swell when the water is still, and sheltered from winds that would potentially produce waves. Trying to make the most of my newfound landscape, which was isolated enough to lack a sewage system. At a convenience store I scrounged together some change and courage to ask the friendly female behind the counter for a Rainbow-Pop and if there was any possible place where I would find waves. She was surprised by me mentioning surfing since swells are few and far between here, but she smiled and sweetly shook her head having no directions other than traveling south in search of an exposed shoreline. Mounting my pack and placing my surfboard securely under my arm I made my way out of town, towards the single street that tailed south towards my mythical waves. Hitchhiking on Hope Road.
I wonder what people think as they pass by? Asking myself why I wasn’t getting a ride. Am I not holding my thumb out far enough? Am I being a bit aggressive? Should I stop walking and stand still? Do I look homeless? An hour and a half later, down on my luck and desperate I decided to wait for seven more cars, I could see the sun wanting to set and couldn’t stop thoughts of shelter and food from popping my pipe dream. Finally found a ride from a friendly fisherman with copper colored skin who took me to Elliot’s Bay in his beat up white work van.
Afloat in an ink black ocean, only staggered streams of white wash spilling onto the beach and back into the sea. The moon peered out of a cloud like a lazy eyelid, light reflecting off the rip curl, the wave’s smooth surface shining as I surf the sublime.
The Farm –
Never imagined I’d end up here when I was about to break into an abandoned campervan or search the shore for a cave to curl up in. Just asked one of the surfers who was walking in with me well after sunset if he happened to know of anywhere I could lay my sleeping bag and stay dry for the night. He asked all about what I was doing, since seeing an American surfing a remote cove on the coast of a small string of islands in northern New Zealand wasn’t a common occurrence, let alone anyone accompanied only by a backpack and a board. He turned out to be Luke, a scruffy looking lad from England, who was working at a farm just a couple miles up the road in return for room and board. When I told him I had a week to wonder the Bay of Islands but nowhere to stay and no set plan, he said I should come cram into his yellow corolla station wagon with the gang of other kids gathered outside of it. We had to use a headlamp to pour enough petro in the tank to get us back, and somehow fit seven surfboards and bodies into that cramped car.
It doesn’t surprise me that I love life here on the farm! I’d rather look off the porch and see rolling green hills speckled with wild horses and cows then gaze out a window and see streets crowded by cars and buildings. What a great change of pace, I’ve felt my mind and my heartbeat slow down. Still haven’t worn shoes since Wednesday and had tea with milk for the first time after Ellen offered fresh milk from their calf. They’ve renovated some sheds to be pretty homey and have bunk beds for anyone who needs some shelter.
Everyone welcomed me in with that same sincere sense of Kiwi kindness. It’s a modern miracle to not know anybody and be greeted genuinely with smiles, a warm shower, a shed to sleep in, and a homemade meal of meatloaf and mashed kumara. Still trying to comprehend such a compassionate country. I need to keep this layback loving way of life alive after I leave! Especially when there is no sand in my toes or salt water to swim in, when I’ve returned and realized that this moment, smiling shirtless with a notebook and no worries –will be a memory.
Hitchhiked with a couple on holiday that happened to sit next to me on the flight from Auckland to Christchurch and could carry me out of the city. At the rental office as we were given an overview of how to operate the RV, I scrounged a brown box from the trash so I could make a sign to show while I walked on the side of the road. In the rear of their RV I sat with a Sharpie scribbling, “ANYWHERE NEAR QUEENSTOWN” and “PLEASE! I HAVE $”. Had to part ways just past their first campground and throw my thumb up in hopes of having any luck hitching on this secluded stretch of road.
Got picked up by two dairy farmers from Sweden who asked about America, about where I was coming from and what I was doing walking down this dusty road. Wish I had a copy of that Polaroid picture we took together.
After 40 minutes and 4 miles I found luck in the form of a scruffy Scottish man in a forest green Land Cruiser, who was the retired captain of a BP oil-tanker that took tons of oil around the cape of South Africa. He told me of hunting wild game while hanging out of a helicopter and his profound reasons for picking up all hitch-hikers he happened to pass and how he traveled around Africa without much money, “I just put my pack on and threw my thumb out whenever I was given a break from being on the boat,” he said slouched backwards and stretching his arm out to pet his old Pyrenees Mountain dog who was patiently passed out on the back seat. “So I know how it feels to be out on the side of the street, hoping you’ll find something or someone to get you to where you want to go.”
Met a man blaring drum and bass music so loud it shook all sides of his car and caused me to feel slightly unsafe as he hand rolled cigarettes, speeding and steering with his knees through the only southbound road that hugged the ridge of mountains and weaved its way towards Queenstown.
If New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world, than this is its nucleus. It’s alive with adrenaline and almost everyone looks like they could be cast in a Mountain Dew commercial. The town is tucked inside a string of snow-capped mountains that look like grey-gummed horse-teeth rising out of a reservoir. Their ridges like the rim of a cup containing the water that created them; bottomless, a big blue puddle surrounded by every shade of evergreen like wet paint dripping down from the tips of trees.
The hostel has enough ramen to feed an entire class of college freshman. There’s a blindfolded bar crawl tonight, but I’m more interested in actually seeing the sites and I still have a bottle of sauvignon blanc to finish before I can consider spending some of the little money I have left to ration out over my remaining days here. Wish I was able to buy a bungee jump, but I’ll just have to suck it up and settle for other forms of free fun. This morning I was the only one in my underwear who wanted to wake up with a swim instead of a shower; some curious Asian couple with a camcorder made a movie out of it and kept laughing and leaning over politely saying something followed by, “funny blonde boy.”
Going to the store today to stock up on apples, peanut butter, nuts and cereal bars before we head-off to TeAnua hitch-hiking – hope to make it to the first camp site maybe seven miles or so from the start of the Kepler Track. Still don’t know why Kiwi’s call trails tracks but I’ve learned to love their lingo without trying to correct it or compare it to my own culture. After all I am an American tourist, not a native, just a person passing by before I head back to my home.
The pen and page are good friends. There’s a time and place for typing, but you can’t spill rum on a laptop and no font feels as heart-felt as handwriting.
The heart goes numb and so do you
Going through the motions – it’s what we do
This day and that day – tomorrow and the rest
Are we trying or merely failing to be our best?
“Education in the true sense is helping the individual to be mature and free, to flower greatly in love and goodness. That is what we should be interested in, not in shaping the child according to some idealistic pattern. If there is joy, if there is the creative fire, it will find a way to express itself, one need not study a method of expression.”