The Allen Stone Electric Mayhem Ensemble played to our largest ever Australian crowd last night at the Metro Theatre in Sydney, and as I’m writing this while in line at the oversized baggage drop off point, waiting for an impossible amount of upright basses to confuse the airport staff and, inevitably, jam the luggage conveyer belt, I’m grateful for music, where it’s taken me, and what I continue to learn.
“A Scotsman, a South African, and an American walk into a bar in Australia” sounds like the setup for an awful joke, but in my case it’s just another family gathering. As I’m writing this, the Sydney Opera House is shimmering against a cloudless, sapphire sky, and whatever clichéd, Bob-Seger-road-warrior stuff’s out the window - I’m in one of the world’s great cities, variously accented Larkins laid waste to a local drinking hole last night, and music paid for the ticket. It’s a good day, and another sold out show tonight will make it even better.
Having an international family means traditional gatherings are challenging. “Let’s have Christmas at Grandma’s” involves tens of thousands of dollars in airfare, and the Herculean task of coordinating a multi-continent slumber party tends to be met with a resounding “meh.” Luckily, this line of work allows me to see everyone about once a year, whether it’s Australia, South Africa, London, Singapore, or wherever the hell my weirdo tribe lands. It’s my favorite part of the job.
And, as a musician, travel’s a reminder that if a certain scene’s hipness feels like a suffocating miasma of hopelessness, well, we live in a big ol’ beautiful world - if your tunes don’t resonate in Music City, maybe they will in Melbourne, or Munich, or Madrid. Book a ticket and find out.
The Stringed Instrument Emotive Face Tripod, courtesy of the Allen Stone Electric Ensemble in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Australian crowds are always awesome, and last night was no exception. Looking out onto a packed club in a country a VERY long way away from the nearest Waffle House never gets old.
But it was a wedge gig, and we are, in satisfying rock and/or roll fashion, terrifyingly loud on stage, so not only am I jet lagged and under-caffeinated at the time of writing, but also shell shocked, having been bludgeoned for the better part of two hours by cymbal crashes, synthesizer bleep-bloops, and a buzzsaw overdrive tone that would’ve made Lemmy from Motörhead proud. It’s taken a concerning amount of time to write 111 words, and I recognize an all-day-underpants-day when I see one.
At any rate, the point of today’s MoaT - check out our opener for this run, Louis Baker. A soul artist from Wellington, New Zealand, one of my new favorite singers, and a sweet heart of a human. Inspiring stuff.
I am, as they say here in Australia, “up at sparrows,” swimming in jet lag but happy as a clam, strolling along the streets of Melbourne near our hotel, early enough that go-getter types are jogging and yoga-ing and drinking soy-based caffeine-y things, and late enough that boozy, skinny-jean enthusiasts are staggering home. It’s sunny and lovely and we’re going to play soul music in front of a thousand or so people tonight.
Survival tip for touring musicians: if you want to do this for a living, sleep is like water. No amount of whiskey-soaked buffoonery’s worth waking up in a foreign country with a nuclear cold. Melbourne’s a fantastic city, but my days of staying out until the wee hours and tying one on are, for the most part, behind me, as is going full-Bourdain. I’m all about a morning constitutional, strong cup of coffee, a few pictures, then power nap and show mode time. I just saw how much they’re charging for tickets, and good lord do I ever owe it to the fans to play my ass off.
I’m sitting across the aisle from the president of a reputable music program at a major university. We’ve met a few times, and such is the theater of air travel that we pretend not to recognize each and it’s totally fine.
I’ve just confirmed that I do, in fact, have a middle seat from LAX to Melbourne, in a row with a bassinet, which means 15 hours of potential close proximity baby crying and my channeling every ounce of musterable energy towards infinite patience. And, judging by the way he’s knocking back Jack and Diets, I’d wager a “how’s the weather” conversation with an acquaintance in a muppet t-shirt isn’t high on Señor Presidente’s list.
So, we sit, staring straight ahead in seasoned traveler bliss, I, with fashion sense severely limiting my number of potential romantic partners, and him, with inspiring, go get ‘em spirit, embracing the opportunity to drink like it’s the end of the world.
To my fellows travelers out there, be well, stay safe, and give your liver a break.
I’m writing this on my comfortable couch in my comfortable little house, about to be en route to the least comfortable place on earth - the Los Angeles International Airport.
In fact, when this hits your inboxes, I’ll still be at the Los Angeles International Airport, rocking back and forth in some dusty corner of the Tom Bradley International Terminal, deep in existential crisis.
My utter disgust towards the Los Angeles International Airport’s ameliorated somewhat by knowing I’m about to eat my body weight in Vegemite and Tim Tams, and if the port of exit to happy, dancing music fans in a different freaking hemisphere’s your lone source of acridity, well, you’re holding some damn fine cards, you cantankerous mooncalf.
Oh, and here’s a link to the new Climb The Sky video, an acoustic(ish) live performance of “Neverland” from Gid and Gabe’s studio.
As bands get bigger, things become, if not more complicated, certainly just, well, more. More cooks in the kitchen, more inflated egos, more contractually obligated distractions. And, thankfully, more travel, more zany friends, and more opportunities to distance one’s self from a career in the actuarial sciences.
The Allen Stone project’s headlining in Australia will be nourishing for the soul - zero strategizing on how to coax taciturn rabbits out of hats, or talk of moving needles, just sold out gigs for diehard fans who’ve supported Al and the band from the beginning. As it should be.
I cherish every opportunity to play these songs with these musicians and work with this crew. It’s a special chemistry, one I don’t take for granted for a second. Life’s a glorious, twisty-turny affair, and wherever I end up will be thanks to lessons learned in the trenches with these legends.
Almost time to rejoin the fold.
I’m looking forward to sinking into my middle coach seat, 15 hours of uninterrupted reading time and several thousand miles of ocean between me and reclusive marsupials.
Fashion trends shift like sand dunes in the wind, and there was a time when the shirt I’m wearing below was considered, as I’ve heard many a producer say, “hot.” Tragically, it is no longer.
Wayward Accountant has yet to catch on nationwide, but know that I did it first, and did it well.
Used to being big fishes in small ponds, most come to Nashville with a “plan” that all but guarantees their place next to Luke Bryan. Emboldened by admirably ludicrous degrees of self-belief, we throw ourselves in the general direction of show business, hearts worn defiantly on sleeves, primed to receive the glorious inevitable.
Of course, things seldom work out that way. Dreams change. Some lie in tatters. Mostly though, the road we thought led to a certain place ends up taking us somewhere different and wonderful.
The key is gratitude - to our younger selves, for proffering middle digits and dreaming preposterous dreams, and to who we are now, for sifting through a haystack’s worth of chaos to find that needle of truth.
I fly to Australia in five days to join up with the Allen Stone crew, and it’s time to get my hands back in hipster funk shape.
I’ve played these songs hundreds of times, so it’s not really a question of re-learning anything, but after a long break, my feel for the music starts to waver. Here’s what I’ve been working on:
Pick a chill metronome setting and an easy tune (I was playing through “Love” earlier). With no backing track, just you and that damnable click, start outlining the chords as you improvise. No pentatonic scale wankery, you should be able to hear clearly each individual chord change. Think rhythmically, and take your time building a vibe.
Simple concept, but deceptively tricky. If you can carry a tune just you and a click, consider yourself leveled up.
I was asked recently about the motivations behind writing the MoaT. More accurately, I was asked “why the fuck do you do that?!” followed by incredulous squinting. Dubiety aside, it’s a good question.
After 16 months, much like brushing my teeth or collapsing into a heap of crippling loneliness, writing the MoaT’s become just another part of my day. And while that’s more than enough reason to keep doing a thing, I decided, as an experiment, not to post the MoaT the other day. I was hungover from my Denver trip, recording new Climb The Sky material with the Klein bros, and goddammit I just didn’t feel like it. So I didn’t.
And nothing happened. No disbelieving emails, vitriolic texts, or indication whatsoever that the universe was affected, even a tiny bit.
But then my trusty Pandora’s box of excuses began to open, all creaky and sinister. I could not write this newsletter, and that’d be totally fine. Certainly no one asked for it. Just let it disappear into the gaping maw of the internet, no harm no foul, smugly justified that you’ve proven, yet again, how you can’t win a rigged game.
Or, you could do the thing you said you were going to do, continue honoring the parts of yourself about which you’re most proud, and, god forbid, have fun, you dumb asshole.
I’m sitting in my usual corner at the Red Bicycle, staring out onto a bustling, sun-soaked mid-afternoon, happily letting my mind wander.
Somewhere along the line, daydreaming became almost punitive. Maybe it’s the push and pull of adulthood’s largely unnecessary gravitas, or the Gary V types populating YouTube with hustle porn, but shutting things down and being productively unproductive’s about as fashionable as the pants I’m wearing.
But there’s a competence uniquely born from indulging inanity, and as I’m sitting here, letting my mind roll over everything and nothing, the second verse arrives, and I’m reminded that I’m not some woeful apparition of unactualized potential, but a Creator of Things, and there’s nourishing work to be done.
Certain times of day lend themselves to certain types of music.
The morning’s all about thrash metal - nothing enlivens a spirit more effectively out of somnambulance and into mirthful fist pumping.
The afternoon’s all about post-rock, Sigur Ros in particular, encouraging my racing mind to slow down, become transported to Tolkienesque vistas, and write with the stayed intention of someone wearing their favorite crunchy sweater as opposed to someone knowing that, at any minute, they’ll be interrupted by a cover of “Margaritaville.”
And the evening’s all about humble beginnings - a friend’s show in town, a debut EP on Spotify, or my own songs, fragile melodies, apt to disintegrate if reached for, like skeletal autumnal leaves.
It’s a gentleman’s noon here in Music City, and I’m still in my uniform of choice - a free Lagunitas hoodie and checkered flannel pajama pants with a tear down the entire length of the ass.
One of my life’s great victories is being able to wear my uniform of choice during events of supposed consequence - management calls, etc - looking like the epitome of disheveled asshole while ostensibly “crushing the game.” But the real reason I’m still in my uniform of choice is because I’m a broken old man.
Five years ago, say, a 48 hour trip to Denver involving drinking and shenanigans and crashing wherever would’ve been just dandy, but there’s something to be said about embracing one’s inevitable march towards dotage. Nowadays, impromptu trips require midnight bedtimes and hotels with functional gyms, and while it pains me to wave goodbye to the part of myself that vaguely resembles rock and roll excess, I’m grateful to be back in my comfy little house, typing away to the metronomic ticking of an antique clock.
Today, I think I’ll re-read The Graveyard Book while sitting in the sun, young at heart but age-appropriate in degeneracy.
I’m fashionably early for my flight back to Nashville, and walking laps around Denver International Airport’s Terminal A, Metallica cranking at ear splitting volume through cheap headphones, trying my best not to fall asleep on my feet.
My clothes have absorbed the usual Front Range bouquet of pachouli, weed, and trustafarian BO, and despite my love for this zany place, the String Cheese Incident remains an inspiringly deplorable band.
I really shouldn’t be out in public. And so, I lean yet again on the genius that is my pal Tommy Siegel and his brilliant cartoons. Enjoy!
For whatever reason, the MoaT didn’t go out yesterday. I wrote it, and posted it in the usual way, but MailChimp evidently didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. That said, given a skydiver’s primary parachute malfunctions, on average, once in every thousand jumps, having an email hiccup once in every 500’s not too shabby.
Anyway, the gist of yesterday’s post - I’m in the Front Range of Colorado, it’s staggeringly beautiful, and thank you to my friend and former Al Stone compatriot Greg Ehrlich for always encouraging me to “book a ticket and just go.”
I’m becoming more conscious of burnout, and thanks to my never having had a real job and Google Flights, an impromptu restorative weekend trip’s a worthy mission, should I chose to accept it.
And so, here I am, surrounded by outdoor enthusiasts in puffy jackets drinking cappuccinos. I’m recognized by a dude in a Motet shirt, who begins playing air guitar at me.
“Where’s Swaaaaatttttttty?!” he asks, with the enthusiasm of a veteran psychedelic adventurer.
“In Portland,” I say.
”NOOOOOOOO!” he says, pounding his fists against an imaginary desk. “THAT’S FUCKED UP!”
He wanders off. I return to phone scrolling.
My friend and former Al Stone bandmate Greg Ehrlich‘s always encouraging me to “book a ticket and just go,” and that’s what I’ve done. After a successful debut show with the new band, I’ve seized upon a couple free days to subdue temporarily my omnipresent wanderlust, grabbing a last minute ticket to Denver, CO. I’m writing this after a therapeutic soak in a hot springs, sleepy and content.
It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do, and despite pea soup fog thwarting my planned outdoor adventures, I feel the familiar excitement building, knowing that songs, lots and lots of songs, are on their way.
The Front Range is a special place. Today, I’m reminded to slow down, and appreciate impossibly beautiful things.
When it’s time for creative work, I only have one rule: I can sit here and write, I can sit here and do nothing, but I can’t sit here and do just anything.
Doing nothing is fantastic. The desk in my office faces a window looking onto the backyard, and I’ve frittered away many an hour daydreaming, watching squirrels fighting over nuts, or generally staring into space, all of which are A-OK because, eventually, doing nothing gets a touch dull. Writing’s far more entertaining, and since I’m sitting here anyway, I may as well go fishing for a tune.
Or not. Getting up and walking away after a solid mind wander is one of life’s great treasures.
But what I’m absolutely not allowed to do is scroll absentmindedly through Instagram, or FaceTime tour manager extraordinaire Ryan “Bear” Drozd, or watch Rick and Morty. All I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.
Make music with your friends and play live.
After Climb The Sky’s first show on Saturday, I wrote this sentence on the dry erase board in my office and plan on leaving it there until the ink dries.
Nothing feels better. Nothing really comes close. And, in this kabuki theater of an industry, there isn’t a more bulletproof strategy, not just for success, but for getting yourself out of bed and, in the company of chirping, dinural friends, putting pen to paper.
I could go on, but, as usual, Dave Grohl says it best.