Welcome Reminders

I’m writing this just as doors are opening at Humphrey’s By The Bay, a small outdoor amphitheater right on the water in San Diego. The one-percenter vibe’s punctuated by sailboat masts silhouetted against the sun’s parting rays and, bizarrely, I’m thinking about Pearl Jam.

Eddie Vedder’s originally from here - hard to imagine rock’s most famously lugubrious baritone shredding the gnar at Pacific Beach, but he evidently did just that right before recording vocals on a demo tape from Seattle, courtesy of a couple lanky, sunlight-deprived rock nerds named Mike McCready and Stone Gossard. Vedder was a security guard at the time - within a year, he’d become one of the voices of his generation.

It’s wild how quickly things can change, a welcome reminder for earnest dreamers, wondering if their music will find a home. 

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Capable Hands

I’m grateful to be in the capable hands of this dapper gentleman, captured below dancing on account of our selling out in Sacramento earlier this week.

A few minutes ago, I interrupted Ryan “Bear” Drozd’s work flow - on a day off, no less - to vent about something only tangentially related to his job as tour manager, and I bummed him out. Bear’s infinitely capable and wants everything to run smoothly and everyone to be happy, and I barge in, bleating about this, that and the other thing, disrupting his never ending to-do list with middle-school level malcontent. My only real responsibility’s to play the show and be generally charming, and I assed that up. So, I apologize Ryan “Bear” Drozd. You are in all ways fantastic, and this is the best tour we’ve ever done.

By the time you read this, I’ll have bought you a beer, and all will be right in the world.

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Smiling Faces

Last night was the most fun I’ve ever had playing music in LA, and I’m the kind of happy exhausted that results in equal parts catatonia and inexorable sense of purpose - maybe, just maybe, this whole thing will stay on the rails a little while longer, and perhaps I shouldn’t be so goddamn hard on myself.

Anyway, just a short offering today, with a more cogent assessment of my world coming tomorrow. Doors open in a couple mins, at which point I’ll ostensibly “get in show mode,” which means surreptitiously peaking around the stage curtain, taking in the myriad smiling faces, and wondering how the hell I got here. 

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Faux Indignation

I’m writing this in the basement green room of the Fonda Theater in Hollywood, soundcheck fast approaching for our first of two shows in this funky, gothic room.

Playing in LA can be challenging - industry hangers-on and wannabe socialites drowning out genuine fans and earnest aspiring artists - but thankfully we’re at a place now where the thing kinda speaks for itself, and we can relax into the trust we have for one another and enjoy being buffoons. Sure, some “friend of management” will drink all our booze, but I’m sitting next to my pal and stage manager Steve “Bluto” Libby, a new guitar’s arriving for me in a couple minutes, and I’d be a real sonofabitch if I wasted additional keystrokes on what is ultimately faux indignation. 

Tomorrow’s sold out, but there’re still a few tickets available for tonight. LA friends, if you read this in time, come hang out, would love to say hi.  

Sportsman’s Lodge

I’m writing this poolside at the Sportman’s Lodge in Studio City, plans of being erudite derailed by midday gin and tonics - it’s a day off, and there’s a celebratory mood in the air after four consecutive sold out shows. Days off on the road are precious, and I plan on spending this one - our first - pleasantly inebriated, in the company of fellow battle-hardened, road-weary degenerates.

The Sportman’s notorious in the touring world - as one of the only hotels in LA proper that accommodates tour busses, the amount of steam let loose here by over-worked touring pros is legendary, to the extent that they had to shut the place down a few years ago and give it a complete overhaul. The pool’s inevitably ringed by bearded weirdos in steel toe boots and metal t-shirts, and the bartenders don’t try to up sell you - they’re happy letting well whiskey flow like water, knowing fat tips from cash rich guitar techs, per diems fresh in hand, are soon to follow.  

The cloudless sky’s transitioning from blue to purple, and as the fading light emboldens additional nocturnal road crew to emerge from their rooms, I’m feeling peaceful and calm, content with my place in the world.

If You Build It

Selling out a show feels good. I mean, of course it does. Right outta the gate with the adroit observations. It’s just that it’s not lost on me, or anyone in our camp, how miraculous it is pulling people away from their Netflix, Uber eats, and disobiedient domesticated critters. We’ve sold out a bunch of shows on this run, and I’m immeasurabley grateful.

The Al Stone Electric Ensemble makes zero sense on paper. In fact, it’s preposterous. And yet, somehow there’s an audience, and I hope that’s inspiration for any person or band struggling to find their way. Don’t change a thing. The people are out there. If you build it, they will come.

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Doing More

San Francisco today at the sold out Regency Ballroom. This is one of the few rooms in SF I’ve never played - thank you, Bay Area friends, for packing the place out.

I’m excited to play music tonight, but walking around the Tenderloin, I’m reminded that as incredible a town as this is - and it is amazing - few places in America highlight the growing socioeconomic chasm more alarmingly. Facebook employees and tech start up types on their way to the latest third wave coffee joint, yoga mats tucked firmly under arm, literally stepping over homeless people under soiled blankets. Just around the corner from the venue, a tent city shares the block with Tesla and Lamborghini dealerships. That we’ve become aggregiously misaligned as a society is undeniable, and while my deep affection for this town remains intact, I can’t help but feel dispirited. 

I’m grateful for travel revealing the true nature of things, and I’m inspired to do more - with my time, resources, creative energy, and love to give. 

This Kooky Road

...and hey! We played pretty well last night. I only monstrously fucked up once, which illicited a chuckle from Tim “Tim” Burke over in monitor world, but he caught the kiss I blew at him so all’s right in the world. Our first show post mortem was pretty ho-hum too, a collective meh, I guess we don’t suck at this quite as much as we thought. So yeah, go ahead and unsubscribe now, I won’t be offended.

The production on this tour’s incredible - vibrant color palettes, giant pastel paper flowers strewn about the stage, and the band dressed in all manner of Willy Wonka approved hipster garb. It is, in all ways, a celebration, and I suppose that means it’s ok acknowledging our not being distractingly terrible.

The crew’s hard at work, and I’m writing this on a park bench in Napa, swine that I am, soaking up some vitamin D, looking forward to a podcast with Chrys Johnson, head artist rep with Jim Dunlop. I’m thankful for my adolescent, and indeed present day, romantic underachievement for leading me down this kooky road. It’s been an odd journey, but painful nerdiness has its perks.

A Good First Day?!

In a couple hours, I’ll be standing next to Ryan “Bear” Drozd at the sound board, watching Nick Waterhouse’s set in front of a sold out crowd at the Roseland Theater in Portland OR. I like their vibe - throwback soul, sharp and confident, a perfect counterbalance to our grip-and-rip, rock and roll McDonald’s dance party. Their spirit seems calm. Seventy days on the road will test the most stalwart’s wherewithal, especially keeping up with a bus itinerary in a van, but I’ve got a good feeling about these guys. Glad they’re along for the ride.

So far, today’s been remarkably smooth, and I write this knowing full well I risk jinxing things. Load-in was easy, no one’s running around like a chicken with its head cut off, soundcheck was a breeze, and the look of rapture on Bluto’s face while tasting Hat Yai chicken for the first time will carry me for weeks. Even the belligerent, perma-fried hippies lurching along Burnside are disappointingly subdued. So, here I am, writing this at a comfortable heart rate, hoping something goes wrong at some point so this newsletter doesn’t turn into a snoozefest.

After persevering all these years, through innumerable setbacks, victories, head-scratching good fortune and predictable bad luck, I suppose we’ve earned having a good first day. Then again, we haven’t played the show yet…

Uneven Hair Plugs

I’m lounging in the back bedroom of our tour bus, snow-capped Mt. Shasta passing slowly atop trees and rocks on fast-forward in its foreground. Lots of musicians say it’s impossible writing music on the road, but for me it’s essential creative mediation. So, here I am, picking away on Allen’s Gibson Hummingbird, a chorus melody taking shape while the flurried patter of Bear’s laptop keys underscores an episode of The Price Is Right.

I usually sing improvised, place holder lyrics over new melodies, to give the idea shape and hopefully stumble upon a glimmer of truth:

How long inside this daylight?

How long before it’s gone?

How long beneath these patient stars?

How long before we’re upside down?

Leonard Cohen might not be green with envy, but it’s germane to the pre-tour vibe. How long does a good thing last? And it has been good - am I wasting it? Should I’ve been nicer to that industry guy with uneven hair plugs? Equal parts earnest concern, hoping the universe runs with what’s on offer, and emo nonsense from a bespectacled gimp in the back of a luxury coach. Either way, I’m grateful for music’s helping me hash out this kinda thing.

First show’s tomorrow night in Portland. It’s sold out, along with the next four gigs, and sharing smiles with old friends will go a long way toward comforting benign jitters. And I’ve heard rumor a certain former organ player might make an appearance…

Ironically Oversized Slippers

This past week’s been such a whirlwind that it’s only just occurred to me I was in freaking Australia, like, a week ago. As I’m writing this in the front lounge of our tour bus, several fourteen hour rehearsal days and bouts of jet-lag fueled insomnia looming large in the rear view mirror, I’m registering how exhausted I am, the kind you feel deep in your bones and leads to writing run-on sentences. 

I’m grateful for our leisurely drive up to the PNW - it’ll allow ample time for rest and, more significantly, recalibrating. I am now officially on tour. For seventy-one days. And whatever ambitions I have outside the band, important as they are, must be tempered by my commitment to kicking this tour squarely in the happy sacks. I have to play well every night, rest amply, not eat like a jack ass and, for the love of god, try not to get sick. As much as a goon wearing ironically oversized slippers (as I am currently) takes anything seriously, I take my never having had a real job seriously, and goddammit this tour won’t jeopardize such a satisfyingly dubious distinction.

Episode 21 - Alex Bachari

Episode 21 of the podcast features my good friend Alex Bachari, one of the busiest musicians in Nashville and currently on tour with Noah Kahan.

I stopped by Alex’s house a couple days before heading out on the Allen Store Fall Tour of Happy Dances and had a fantastic chat about life as a traveling musician, Joe Satriani’s miracle jet lag cure, and all manner of nourishing, music-nerdy goodness.

Bachari’s an insightful dude who attacks life with an appropriate degree of irreverence, aka my kinda sonofabitch.

Take a listen!

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Trust the Chemistry

Grabbing a quick minute to tap this into existence before running the set one last time. We hop on the bus tomorrow and commence our two day trek up to Portland OR, where wooks shall be danced with, old friends hugged, and this rocket ship of a tour’s officially launched.

I think we’re ready. There’s always the nervous compulsion to run over that one part a dozen more times, or make sure I hit my lighting cue just so, and my younger self would’ve happily descended into a masochistic OCD hellscape - mercifully, the cultured swine writing this with his feet up in the SoCal sun knows it’s all about trusting the chemistry, taking a celebratory shot of the good stuff, and merrily hanging on for dear life.

Ok, back to work. This tour’s gonna be special.

Ryan Drozd is a Legend

I’m writing this on our lunch break, hastily gobbled pizza sitting less-than comfortably in my belly. Los Angeles is still resplendently polluted, the set’s coming together, and Ryan “Bear” Drozd remains the greatest tour manager in the known universe.

What does a tour manager do, exactly? In short, everything. Think of every responsibility you’ve ever had, juggle them simultaneously under retina-detaching stress levels, and extrapolate that times however many numb-nutted degenerates are in your touring party.

Bear begins working the minute he wakes up. He doesn’t stop working until he falls asleep, usually in front of his laptop. Advancing with venues, coordinating travel logistics and tech specs, guest list requests, making sure catering has a gluten free option…the list goes on and on and on and holy jesus I’m breaking out in a flop sweat just thinking about it. And, as if this wasn’t enough, he’s not exactly dealing with Navy SEALs - we’re all delicate flowers, needy and incapable of holding down real jobs, so this Herculean workload must be undertaken with a smile on his face and a song of infinite patience in his heart, even when he wants to light us all on fire for asking about the wifi password.

Tour managing’s an impossible job, and therefore an equally impossible superhero’s required. Enter Ryan “Bear” Drozd. And he says it’s good.  

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Carter Adams is a Legend

Behold, Carter “Sick Dabs” Adams in his natural habitat. 

It takes about an hour to program one minute’s worth of lighting. Yes, you read that correctly. Given we’re at about a two hour set right now, you do the math - it’s a work load that’d make Elon Musk quake in his snakeskin boots. And we’re apt to improvise, so Carter’s gotta play the lighting rig like an instrument in real time, calling audibles based on the whims of five imbeciles. Scarily enough, he’s as good a musician as he is an LD, and more than adequate to the task.

I’ve never met anyone more capable of hunkering down and putting in an 18 hour day like it’s nothing. Carter’s infinitely patient and in every way the Mountain GOAT. Grateful he’s on this crew.

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Cobwebs

I’m writing this outside our rehearsal studio on a resplendently polluted Los Angeles afternoon, sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the black-on-black, skinny jean/beanie uniform in my many-hued Madiba t-shirt.

I’d originally planned on posting a picture of our full production set up, on account of its being super cool and Carter “Mountain Goat” Adams absolutely crushing the lighting design, but I was discouraged from doing so. Instead, I’ll offer simply that so far, so good. 

Yesterday was spent dusting off the cobwebs. We haven’t toured this ambitiously since 2016, or even played together that much save for a few one-offs, and these first few days are about rediscovering the chemistry - jamming, celebratory cocktails, and generally hanging out, reminding ourselves that we do, on balance, enjoy each other’s company. The pace is leisurely, which my jet lag appreciates, and there’s little sense of urgency, one of the benefits of having played a thousand or so shows together.

Palm trees are dancing hypnotically in the mellow breeze and, annoyingly, Phantom Planet’s “California” is stuck in my head. The only thing to do’s crank Sepultura to ear-splitting volume and meditate inside the Cavalera brothers shared rage.



Jet Lag Anecdotes

I’m writing this with my feet up on a road case, faithful band mascot/punching bag Chad and I unsuccessfully staying out of the way of our busy crew. Tyler’s just arrived, the rest of the band’s navigating the Thunderdome that is baggage claim at LAX, and soon our greater-LA area rehearsal space will come to life with funky(ish) jams and exuberant tambourine break downs.

It’s a little tricky concentrating over the slug beat jamtronica soundtrack courtesy of Carter “Mountain Goat” Adams (lighting tech extraordinaire), and a schmuck in a jazz hat, with his feet up no less, pecking away at his laptop isn’t endearing in the eyes of an already overworked Ryan “Bear” Drozd. Best, I think, to wrap this up and make a coffee run for my prickly, under-caffeinated friends.

Day 1 of rehearsals for the Big Tour’s officially underway! More hazy with jet lag anecdotes to follow…

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The Adderalled Masses

I’m sitting on the porch of our Air BnB, enjoying a self-imposed jet lag day and 24 hours worth of blissful calm before a three month long storm. The band arrives tomorrow, the crew’s hard at work, and I’m luxuriating, swine that I am, coffee in hand, with the dulcet tones of the Devin Townsend Project keeping me company.

I’m not ready to mingle with the adderalled masses just yet. There’re views of both downtown and the Hollywood sign from where I’m sitting, and a favorite watering hole’s right around the corner, but I’m daydreaming about renting a caravan and disappearing into the Australian Outback until the universe tells me exactly what the fuck’s going on. Which really just means I need a massage or something.

I received a nice message yesterday from a MoaT reader, describing this newsletter as uplifting. As someone with the propensity and fortitude to dwell in dark places, I appreciate hearing that, sincerely. I’ve worked hard at finding humor in shared absurdity and, in some small way, I hope these daily writes help make clear that we are none of us alone.

In and Out

Writing a daily newsletter when you’re not 100% sure what day it is is a unique challenge, and as I’m about to cross the international dateline again, I hope my streak of writing something everyday since Jan 1 remains unbroken.

An important and unheralded aspect of discipline’s getting yourself back on track when life happens. The MoaT is a gentle exercise in accountability, and I’m amazed how the mindfulness of writing a little something everyday carries over into everything else.

So, here I am, composing a quasi interesting annecdote on my phone while waiting to board a flight to a place overrun by Bird scooters, feeling good about doing the thing I said I was going to do. I seem to be the least sweaty person here, which is rare.

In theory, by the time you’re reading this I’ll be eating In and Out (animal style, of course) with tour manager Ryan “Bear” Drozd, backline/stage manager Steve “Bluto” Libby, and production manager Tim “Tim” Burke. Tour rehearsals start in a couple days.