Episode 27 - Mark Lettieri

Episode 27 of the podcast features the legend himself, Mark Lettieri. He’s a guitarist, composer, session musician, and producer based in Fort Worth, TX, best known for his work with Snarky Puppy and the Mark Lettieri Trio. His latest record, Spark and Echo, is available now.

Mark’s long been one of my favorite musicians on the planet, and it was a pleasure catching up with him when the Allen Stone Electric Ensemble rolled through Dallas about a month and a half back. He’s in all ways the consummate pro - articulate, laser-focused, and a uniquely gifted player.

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Infinitely Capable Bastards

I’m writing this from the green room at the Knitting Factory in Spokane, WA. We’ve been through this room a bunch of times, and it’s awesome working with the same high-functioning, curmudgeonly house crew.

Referring to Nick Waterhouse’s drummer’s singing, an unnamed house guy, in between sloppy bites of Taco Bell, mutters, “Jesus Christ, we’ve got a fucking Don Henley here.” Setting up one additional vocal mic takes about 30 seconds, and that it’s a faux-imposition makes me smile, as does besmirching the name of someone so famously cantankerous. 

And they crush their work, albeit amid a symphony of beltches, farts, and hopefully inaccurate assessments of their mothers - an alarmingly profane yet well-oiled machine.

I love that this business provides a home for infinitely capable bastards. 

Punching Bags

We’re hanging out as a team at Allen’s house in Spokane, eating cured meats, drinking aggressive red wine, and watching Chunk the bulldog, with a disconcerting sense of purpose, rub his ass along the carpet. I’m about to turn myself into a prune in the hot tub while waiting for my massage on this much needed day off surrounded by friends. As we’re about to greet even more familiar faces, I’ll leave you with a “caption this” picture of my amp, because it’s a day off, I’m feeling lazy, and there’s a punching bag with my name on it.


343 Days

I’m writing this in the Flying M Coffeehouse in Boise, surrounded by paintings of bedazzled nude torsos and avuncular gnomes, in the company of hipster chic Idahoans adumbrated by glowing Apple logos. 

I mentioned a few days ago that I could easily make another lap around the country. I lied. I am, in fact, exhausted, and it’s on days like today I’m grateful for this newsletter. On past tours, on the homestretch and grasping for what’s at best an ephemeral sanity, I’d stare at my phone, zombie like, relying on YouTube puppy videos to fortify my nerves, long since frayed beyond recognizability. 

Now, no matter how tired, pissed off, or generally over it I am, I made a commitment to write the MoaT everyday, which I guess is my internet equivalent of putting on pants and leaving the house - it may not be pretty, but I’m making the effort, and goddammit that’s more than can be said for that douche in compression pants.

343 days in a row. Thanks for following along.

Second Wind

I’m writing this in the basement greenroom of the Gothic Theater in Denver CO, the walls shaking around me as Bear tunes the PA with “Canned Heat” by Jamiroquai. What’s just happened is what always happens at the end of a long tour, where I get my second wind, could easily make another lap around the country, but know my compatriots are this close to lighting the bus on fire. So, I’ll settle for throwing myself into Trevor Larkin music world and luxuriating in the fountain of youth that is total befuddlement. 

But I’m looking forward to it. At this point in my career, I’ve experienced some nice success, a whole lotta failure, and been happy and Eor-like in both. I’ve seen laser focused individuals come up miles short, and perpetually asleep at the wheel types fall into the kinda luck that’d make a Leprechaun blush. 

There are no clear paths in this business, so I don’t drive yourself nuts looking for them. I trust my gut, and releasing new songs feels right. Making music with my friends feels right. Using my music as a platform to showcase talented visual artists feels right. And the plan, if there’s meant to be one, will coalesce around my being a generally badass creative archangel.

Singing of Praise, Pt. 4

I’ve sung his praises several times via this newsletter, but our stage manager/backline tech Steve “Bluto” Libby is a super hero. Imagine equal parts teddy bear, 800 series Terminator, and walking manifestation of nirvana, and you’re experiencing just the tip of the infinitely capable iceberg that is my aggravatingly handsome friend.

I’ve written before about his Herculean work capacity and utter refusal to accept anything done half-assed, but what’s stood out on this tour is his kindness. 

He’s the guy you want to watch shitty movies with at 3am, gain perspective from when you’re feeling all indignant and sanctimonious, and it’s the highlight of my day knowing I’ll be met with ice cold Jamison and a chortle when I exit stage left. 

I trust Steve. Because he’s a good man. Because he’s endured every obstacle this capricious business has on offer and, somehow, is the embodiment of patience. Because he’s seen me at my worst and still finds me inoffensive company, and maybe even occasionally funny.

If you’re lucky, you’re surrounded by pretty decent people. If you’re really lucky, maybe a few are great. If you’re crazy, stupid, preposterously lucky, one of them’s worthy of having their cherubic countenance carved along side Honest Abe on Mt Goddamn Rushmore.

And you can guess where I land on Steve “Bluto” Libby.


The Finish Line

I’ve been staring at a blinking curser for the past fifteen minutes, my road weary brain a messy collage of future plans, humorous exchanges while being mistaken for opener Nick Waterhouse, and recalling how much joy it brings me watching Point Break in the front lounge with Steve “Bluto” Libby, belly laughing and drunkenly roasting a doe-eyed Keanu Reeves.  

And this is what the final 12 days of a 77 day tour look like - hoping that whatever well-adjusted parts of myself robust enough to survive three months of cheap whiskey and rider sandwiches maintain their tenuous grip on the wheel.

Everyone’s tired and ready to reconnect with their lives outside the band, but moral’s high - the key, I’ve learned, is letting things descend into ridiculousness, like today’s soundcheck where we sang our tour manager/FOH Ryan “Bear” Drozd’s praises over an especially dumb reggae groove. I’m sure we didn’t give Bear what he needed to, you know, do his job, but we had a laugh (Bear included), and that’s what the push to the finish line’s all about.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

I’m writing this in the greenroom of Delmar Hall in St. Louis MO on a peaceful, niveous evening, thinking about the classic poem by Robert Frost, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Whose woods these are I think I know.   

His house is in the village though;   

He will not see me stopping here   

To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   

To stop without a farmhouse near   

Between the woods and frozen lake   

The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   

To ask if there is some mistake.   

The only other sound’s the sweep   

Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.

The last stanza in particular resonates as we near the end of this three month extravaganza - the road, in my case, is indeed lovely, dark and deep, still mysterious and nourishing after all these years, but there’re parts of my story that can’t be told from the comfy confines of the tour bus, and I’m excited to carry over the positive momentum from Allen Stone land into new projects when this tour wraps.

Singing of Praise, Pt. 3

Laura Jawer is our merchandise seller and VIP coordinator on this tour, a job she crushes with an ease that makes my fumbling for major seven chords that much more perplexing. 

This isn’t surprising - OG Allen Stone fans know that Laura’s our original tour manager, dropping out of college to join the team in 2012 and guide us through the head spinning exponential growth that saw us move from a shitty van to a tour bus in less than a year. We toured Europe twice, fired business managers, fired day-to-day managers, and she even tolerated a certain unnamed guitar player’s indefensible bowl cut. 

She came into the job with zero experience, was supported by people with seemingly even less, and somehow crushed a workload that’d flatten most veteran TMs. She was 22 years old. 

Laura’s a fantastic listener, and is therefore burdened with the thing all fantastic listeners know - being the first point of contact for stream of consciousness, ill-defined malcontent. And many’s a time we’ve gone on a walk, thrown a tennis ball for her adorable pooch, and there I go venting again. 

Laura’s also fantastically wise, and kind, and is therefore burdened with the thing all fantastically wise and kind people know - that it’s better, almost always, to tell the truth. So Laura tells me when I’m being an asshole. She also tells me she believes in me. And I believe her.

Laura’s one of my dearest friends, her partner Steve Libby’s my hero, and they’re everything I want to be when I grow up.

And I promise I’ll get that shit out of your basement at the end of this tour. I mean, it’s only been three years.


Ska Music

Doors have been open for about a half hour at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, and I’m slipping through the crowd incognito in my aforementioned puffy jacket and fucking scarf. Most nights, I’m mistaken for our opener Nick Waterhouse, also a nondescript white guy with brown hair and glasses, and it brings me great joy knowing I’ll later be congratulated for my unique take on Brian Setzer inspired throwback soul.

Nick and his band have been awesome - musically, of course, and with the unenviable task of a) keeping up with a bus tour in a van, and b) having to fit in with a crew who’s known each other for a decade, been through every trench imaginable, and uses a coded language that’d put Cockney Rhyming Slang to shame.

For example:

“That Darrell and pack of Jerrys made a think about tomorrow, so how ‘bout a shobbataqeeba and trip to Dabadelphia? Ska music.”

Translates to (roughly):

“That disagreeable gentleman and his compatriots made a particularly offensive bowel movement, so let us postpone our own ablutions in favor of a pour of agave spirit and inhaling potent cannabis products. We accept our fate with admirable stoicism.”

Hanging with a close knit crew’s intimidating at the best of times, and the Waterhouse squad’s been great sports. 

Check out their music here.


Singing of Praise, Pt. 2

I’m writing this in the green room at the Vic Theatre in Chicago IL, sitting across from our production manager, Tim Burke. Tim, already a walking Buddha, is one of those freakazoid characters who’s actually made more pleasant by the lunatic hours and - how do I phrase this diplomatically - inconsistent working conditions one encounters out here while “making it” in show business. 

He’s calm (impossibly calm), and patient (again, impossibly so), and appreciates the cathartic embrace that is swearing like a depraved sailor when the occasion calls for it. And any person capable of motivating a bunch of hung over paroled felons to arrange gigantic paper flowers in perfect feng shui deserves a statue in his honor.

Oh, and he’s a better guitar player than me, the bastard.



I’m writing this from the greenroom at the House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio. As a spoiled band guy, I get to waltz into the venue, well, provided it’s before soundcheck I can show up pretty much whenever. If our crew’s already drenched in sweat and cursing under their breaths when I arrive in my puffy jacket and fucking scarf, I frantically begin looking for some Lord of the Rings-esque quest to embark on in hopes of thwarting the ancient evils of this world. 

Thankfully, Samwise and I get today off - the house crew’s on point, our crew’s smiling, and we’ve sold out the venue. This is especially sweet, given the last time we played this HOB the promoter got cold feet and demoted us to the “upstairs room,” ie we played the bar. Let me say, too, that the promoter was 100% justified in booting us from the main hall. We had not, in fact, sold very many tickets, and that’s why I love Cleveland and the mid-west in general - people here are honest and precious with their attention, and that we’ve had to prove ourselves feels proper. 

Thank you, Cleveland, for letting us come back year after year. Tonight’s going to be fun.

Singing of Praise, Pt. 1

We’re officially on the homestretch, and it’s only appropriate that I sing the praises of everyone who’s just as masochistic and bat-shit nuts as I am, ie my touring comrades. They also happen to be infinitely capable, patient, and friends for life.

To Ryan “Bear” Drozd, the most infinitely capable and patient of us all - thank you. Tour managing is the most difficult job in our industry, and that you pull it off flawlessly while also mixing the freaking show every night is Herculean. You’ve turned the touring culture around, and Jesus Christ just look at his suit, folks. I don’t bring you peanut butter cups frequently enough, and for that I’m sorry.

You're the best in the business, and congrats on the shout out today from Avid (a BIG deal in the live sound world). Know that I’m writing this in my bunk, mere feet from your inarguably brilliant self enjoying a well-deserved cold one, feeling lucky that you’re at the helm and not certain unnamed parties who don’t know the difference between Cleveland and Akron.



Support Each Other

Yesterday was one of those days. I was Mr. Grumpy McGrumpypants for no reason, had a fake-it-til-ya-make it show, and figured I’d disappear into my bunk, listen to black metal, and generally “woe is me” myself to sleep. 

But a friend asks me to come out and say hi, and I eventually harrumph my way to front of house - a quality harrumph, it must be said. My nondescript despondency’s derailed by exuberant show reenactments (bro, when you and Swatty go weedly-wee back and forth…BRO!), and I can’t help but smile.

It’s a welcome reminder that the thing we do is a force for good in the world - feel however I need to feel on the day, because being human’s just fine, but don’t disregard the other vulnerable and searching souls met along the way. We can support each other.

Episode 26 - Michael Pukownik

Episode 26 of the podcast features Michael Pukownik (@pukownik), SVP/Head of Artist Marketing for North America at AWAL, the recordings division of Kobalt Music Group. We chat about strategies for artist development, his journey from Poland to becoming a crazy ninja-level music executive, and the music that makes us smile.

I met Mike during the Allen Stone project’s brief chapter with Capitol Records. He was working in their marketing department at the time, immediately understood and believed in what we were trying to do, and continued to advocate for the band even after it was clear we were no longer a priority at the label.

Mike’s truly one of the great people in this business, and I’m proud to call him a friend.

Check it out!


Cognitive Molasses

Toronto! I love this city, and today’s torrential downpour and general gloominess won’t deter me from drowning myself in ramen broth at Momofuku, fortifying myself for our sold out show tomorrow at the Phoenix Theatre. 

It’s a day off, and I’m allowing my thoughts to trudge through the ol’ cognitive molasses, embracing lethargy as a nourishing counterbalance to our hectic touring schedule and accepting that, well, today’s not the day for epiphanies, edifying commentary, or anything even passably eloquent. I’m in my hotel room, writing this in my underpants, and goddammit if it isn’t fantastic.

I’m also writing this while listening to Sigur Ros’s “( )”, an album sung entirely in Hopelandic, a made-up language consisting of gibberish words. There’s an ache and melancholy to the record that’s perfect accompaniment for counting the illuminated windows in an adjacent high rise, slipping in and out of gentle meditation on the nature of evolving dreams. 

Or whatever. Again, while in my underpants.


Respect the Journey

Seventeen shows left, but it feels like the home stretch, especially with a stack of books and gently swaying palm trees in my near future.

And then it’s, well, who knows? Not in the sense of will there be an Allen Stone band (there will be, of course), but maybe it’s that I’ve already experienced my life change due to glorious, unforeseen circumstance and, thankfully, had the good sense to leap giddily into the unknown - should a similar opportunity get my spidey sense tingling, I don’t want to miss it. So, at the end of every year, I take stock - where am I going, where have I been, and do the pros of waking up in a coffin-sized bunk still outweigh the lower back pain?

I don’t foresee a change of scenery any time soon, but it’s comforting knowing I respect this journey, and the people I share it with, enough not to become a curmudgeonly sack of crap, and that I trust the personal work I’ve undertaken, and the man I’ve become. 


I spent the day wandering around the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and was introduced to the work of visual artist and neuroscientist Dr. Greg Dunn (@gdunnart). He’s created the most elaborate and accurate artistic illustration of the human brain, among dozens of other incredible images. Intricate, psychedelic, and infinitely more nourishing than a cheesesteak. Inspiring discovery. 


Befuddling and Utterly Magical

I’m walking around Dupont Circle in Washington DC on Thanksgiving Day, hunting for a coffee shop, cafe, anything that’s open, eventually settling for, god help me, Starbucks. It’s just cold enough to keep my pace brisk, and it’s zombie apocalypse level deserted, the Range Rovers and Mercedes S Classes, I’m imagining, hastily discarded in favor of holing up in the Nicaraguan Embassy, molotov cocktails at the ready.

I’m often asked what it’s like being away from family on the holidays, and it’s really not so bad. I’m lucky - this job allows me to travel the world, about which my family’s haphazardly strewn, and I see everyone often. With an international family, you appreciate that getting the band back together, as it were, is a rare, if ever event, and I’m grateful for hanging with my cousins in Australia as often as I do my cousins in Canada, or Boston. 

This line of work’s not for everyone. In fact, statistically speaking, it’s for almost no one. That’s it’s for me I think’s pretty cool, which is why I try to embrace every facet of this befuddling and utterly magical ride.