Dental Conventions

Playing drunk’s not something I recommend.  I’ve only done it once as a “professional,” during a dental convention at the Ritz Carlton in Coral Gables.  Arriving on site several hours early, a clearly new artist liaison happily informs us the beachside bar will be comping our drinks for the evening.  It takes about 20 seconds for the Allen Stone Electric Ensemble to begin clapping exuberantly on one and three along with the DJ, drooling all over ourselves. 

I don’t know what it is about scraping plaque and yanking molars for a living, but the convention attendees drink like it’s the end of the world.  I’ve never seen anything like it- honestly- and I’ve played a punk show during an arm wrestling competition on an Apache reservation.  Later, it’s revealed they all have IV drips in their hotel rooms- after an evening’s debauchery that renders me zombie-like for two days, these maniacs are fresh as daises, hawking operatory equipment like it’s a bake sale.

I’d have felt bad, except the attendees are turning over tables and started conga lines with cocktail servers.  At some point, I realize Allen hasn’t actually been on stage for quite some time.  A quick glance behind the Leslie (that's a cabinet, not a person thank god) reveals a bespectacled, curly haired lovable doofus sleeping it off, the audience raucously oblivious in their escapism.  In the moment, of course, we think we’re killing it but, the next day, our FOH’s board recording reveals a performance closer to bagpipes on Xanex than Queen at Live Aid.  

We’re asked back the next year.

Sunsets

In the early stages of touring with Allen and the fellas, I took a lot of sunset photos.  We were On Our Way- anything was possible and everything seemed huge, hence my obsession, I imagine, with expansive, fire-red skies.  I remember feeling like the band was anointed.  I was naive, but magnificently so.  The issue isn't so much being naive, I realize now- in fact, when it comes to lunatic tasks like launching a band, it's a wonderful thing- but how you handle the inelegant landing back into reality can determine a whole hell of a lot.    

Now that the dust’s settled and the band’s experienced, along with our successes, several cliched set backs, I’ve noticed a shift in my curated photo diary.  More pictures, now, of me in silly hats, gazing earnestly into the Matrix.  Screen shots from fan profiles, immortalizing ill-advised tank top phases and preposterous cowboy themed stage attire.  Shows photos (literally staged photo ops) and promo pics.  It’s a business now, fun to be sure but an established Thing.  There are new dynamics, egos, politics and comrades in arms.  All of us have grown a bit more guarded and appropriately wearied, as one emerging from the trenches inevitably becomes.  We’ve seen a major label deal sour and new creative interests draw us in unique directions.  We’ve also seen a core fanbase stick by us.  After six years, I’m still standing.  I’m still here.

All this said, I miss those sunset photos.  At what point does wonder give way to self-seriousness?  That I’m aware enough to ask the question means I’m capable of making some changes and, with luck, stumbling upon an answer.  

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Clair de Lune

I’m taking a trip down memory lane, scrolling through old photos.  Debussey’s Claire de Lune's whispering sanguinely in the background.  It can be challenging, sometimes, writing to music.  With each arpeggio's crescendo, I’m no longer me, but rather some super hero, a powerful being trusted with greater purpose beyond singing alone about his feelings.  

Clair de Lune is magically effortless.  Khatia Buniatishvili is the pianist.  It’s no small task taking on a piece like this.  There’s a chasm greater than the Grand Canyon separating a very good player (like myself) and world class soloists like Khatia Buniatishvili.  That kind of single-minded dedication and unerring attention to detail simply is more than most intellects are capable, and the people who genuinely practice ten hours a day and don’t come out coke-addled maniacs who deeply resent their well-intentioned yet domineering parents are, like, unicorn rare.  

I was originally writing about family.  Inspired by a picture of my cousin and me sipping whiskey gingers on a tour bus, I was going to make fun of my hat, compliment my cousin’s lovely smile and express gratitude for music allowing me to travel to far flung corners of the world and knock back cocktails with variously accented Larkins.  And I will, on the next post, probably.  But, now, in this moment, a gorgeous fall day’s given way to a crisp evening, blanketed by a glittering sky.  I stopped writing just now for a full five minutes, closing my eyes, taking in every expertly depressed key, each barely audible squeak from the damper pedal.  What powerful, awe-inspiring music.  Time to roast some s'mores.  

Leiper's Fork

Twilight’s a magical time in Tennessee.  There’ve been a million country songs written about the subject, a myriad of bro-poets waxing nostalgic about fireflies and extolling the virtues of cheap domestic lager.  I have to admit, they’re onto something.     

I’m sitting in a lawn chair outside David Arms gallery, enjoying a cheeseburger from Puckett’s Grocery and chuckling, having heard an epically bearded fifty-something declare "I’m gonna call the Doobie Brothers gospel just so we can play their music on a Sunday."  It is, in fact, Sunday, which means there’s not a whole lot going on in Leiper’s Fork.  Just me, a utility burger, blushing celestial canopy and nighttime critters rustling in the vanishing daylight.  There's a satisfying stillness in the air.

The chairs outside David Arms gallery face out over an open field and, aside from the faint suggestion of gospel music, the Main Street’s quiet.  The fireflies are emerging.  They’re only active between twilight and dusk, and the entire field’s suddenly alive in luminescence, an undulating sea of soft flickering neon.  Are there hundreds?  Thousands?  It’s hypnotic, and I find myself counting my breaths up to ten, inhaling and exhaling slowly, gently meditating in the semidarkness.  

A horse whinnies, tosses its head, and happily farts.  I laugh, freeing bits of utility burger in the process, and think about perennial things.  Fireflies will always display their butts in horniness, large mammals will always pass gas, and there’ll always be fields in which both cavort.  They certainly don’t care that the record’s delayed until November.  Maybe I shouldn’t either.

The chairs outside David Arms gallery.  Farting horse not pictured.  

The chairs outside David Arms gallery.  Farting horse not pictured.  

Trust In Your Friends

It’s a couple years ago, and I’m new in Nashville.  I’m back from another leg of the Never Ending Tour, hungover, feeling sorry for myself.  There’s no food in the fridge, a lone mustard bottle standing guard over rotten eggs.  It’s grim, and I self-sooth the way most vagabond hipsters do- pay outlandish prices for mediocre tacos.

I slip past the host stand and find an unoccupied bar stool, opting for limeade and tearing my cocktail napkin into tiny pieces of  travel fatigue and vague, existential dread.  It’s in moments like these every cliche born from a privileged existence says howdy-do:  who am I, where am I going and what does it all MEAN, man?  I’m surprised a drum circle doesn’t spontaneously form.  

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I’m not looking for conversation, but someone sits next to me and asks what I’m drinking.  Upon grumpily half-rotating my aching head, I’m met by a smiling woman in her fifties.  Despite my making fun of drum circles earlier, I do believe in energy, and this woman exudes a calmness and patience that immediately clears my hangover fog.  This is going to be a nourishing conversation.  Given that my mind feels like the ball in a pinball machine, I could use a little kindness.  

She tolerates my initial fumbling for words and nods along with my Story So Far, sensing it to be the well rehearsed small talk it is.  Her name’s Donna.  She’s a successful songwriter in town and her husband’s a well-regarded steel player.  We quickly get to talking about music, our favorite records and songs.  We acknowledge my being the only Bar Taco patron in a black hoodie and untied shoes.  We laugh, poke fun, and I’m slowly brought back into the real world.

Zane, her husband, arrives and, in a low-key Arkansas drawl, mentions he’s “heard of my band,” having been prompted via text by Donna to check out some tunes on his ride over.  We settle into a familiar guitar nerd rapport while Donna surreptitiously picks up my tab.  In subsequent dinners together, they’ve never let me pay, despite my repeatedly insisting.

And so a life-long friendship’s born.  Donna and Zane King, ladies and gentleman.  Her chili’s revived me numerous times post-tour, and his pool sharking’s repossessed left over per diem more than I’d care admitting.  Donna and I’ve written several songs together that are truly beautiful.  They’re the first people who made Nashville feel like home.

So, when in doubt, go out.  Be morose, detached and generally emo, but not so much that a smile goes unnoticed or a helping hand unclasped.  We are all lost from time to time, then mercifully directed back on track by an unassuming angel’s nudge. 

180 Proof and Pyrolyzed

I’ve been home for almost a week and still haven’t bothered unpacking- I head out again tomorrow morning for another couple weeks of hipster soul/funk shenanigans and sitting in my backyard, sipping moonshine and writing songs about escaping cults seems like a far better use of my time.

Fire’s a mesmerizing thing, its light reflecting off my Breedlove’s glossy finish, swimming in the mason jar of moonshine at my feet, creating a penumbra of tentative hope.  180 proof and pyrolyzed creative muse.  

I’m preparing myself for Full Emo Mode, the all-too-familiar sardonic spiral downward, when my rumination’s interrupted by my neighbor, Big Country.  Clad in overalls and a mesh Budlight cap, he’s encouraging me to play “some real hillbilly music,” which, hilariously, means Glen Campbell.  A verse and chorus of Rhinestone Cowboy’s usually enough to reinforce the Shared Fence Treaty, and he retreats to his living room, reminding me not to slip any of that “vegan shit” under the fence for his dog.  I like Big Country.  Every morning, I brew some coffee and head outside, invariably met by BC drying his clothes on the fence.  We talk about life.  I don’t bring up Trump and he doesn’t hold against me that I’m yet another privileged, converse wearing hipster with thick rimmed glasses moving into his neighborhood.   

This past Wednesday morning, Big Country asks me if I believe in God.  I decide to be honest.  Well, I say, I believe in kindness, listening to people and that nobody has the monopoly on good ideas.  If that’s God, ok, fair enough, but I don’t think that’s the whole story.  Big Country smiles closed-lipped, takes a sip from his worn, oversized Tennessee Titans cup and squints at me, his crows feet revealing a life spent working long hours outdoors.  Trevor, he says, my dad’s sick.  You’re a good kid.  Pray for my dad.  I’m pretty sure God’ll hear ya.

So, that night, I pray for Big Country’s dad.  I sit in my living room and allow my mind to wander towards who I imagine BC’s dad to be- surrounded by grandkids chasing fireflies in the Tennessee twilight, their laughter somehow easing his labored breathing, willing his withered legs to dance miraculously along with the music of his youth.  I imagine Alzheimer’s grip loosening, freeing a gifted raconteur to slalom through memories in triumphant lucidity.  

Kindness, I imagine he tells me, has a way of leaving something behind, something you don’t notice until the main event’s passed on, like the sweet kiss of cedar smoke on your clothes. 

An Ode to Moose and Sheep Dogs

I love Canada.  They’re playing Neil Young at an uncomfortable volume in the Vault coffeeshop here in Nanaimo and I enjoyed a moose stew for lunch.  The coffee’s strong, the sun’s out and I’m going fishing in an hour.  

We haven’t played in Canada for over a year and it felt great entertaining the fine folks at the Philips Backyard Weekender in Victoria a few days ago.  What a cool festival- small, accessible and fun.  We played right after a Canadian mariachi band which, while buzzed on local Pilsner, is just about the most delightful thing there is.  Later that evening, in a misguided effort to combat my dad bod, I find myself in a hipster vegetarian establishment.  I recognize a harmonized guitar line from one of my favorite Canadian bands, the Sheep Dogs, buzzing through the cafe’s underpowered speakers- they opened for us for a week last year, sweet hearted road warriors to a man, unknown in the States and down to log some serious van miles.  Just a few kilometers across the imaginary line, the Sheep Dogs are everywhere, more popular here than we are in the US.  The world’s a big place.  Good music always finds a home.

Tomorrow I hop on a sea plane over to Vancouver then back stateside for a show with Swatkins and the Positive Agenda.  I’m thankful for this quick trip into the Great White North.  I’ve been hunkered down in Music City for a while, slowly growing innocuously more bizarre, and it feels good getting my travel legs back.  Travel reminds me that monotony equals creative atrophy.  Spending nothing but time and taking nothing but pictures makes me happy.  I’ll always grow more bizarre, and I’m content doing so fueled on moose ass and Kokanee. 

This Bacon's Terrible

"This bacon's terrible!" declares the man sitting across from me at the Frothy Monkey.  This has nothing to do with this post other than it just happened and I couldn't come up with a title.  So, thanks angry bearded man.  Dude digs pork.

We’re being put up in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, one owned by a company that synthesizes high fructose corn syrup and horse hoof into a palatable tooth rottener.  Knowing we’d be staying here, I’ve packed light, leaving ample room for 50 or so packets of obesity fuel.  What did Oscar Wilde say?  Everything in moderation, including moderation?  

The picture that sparks this memory is one of me sitting in this mansion, fedora’d and bespectacled, playing an ostentatious, USA-themed piano.  Red, white and blue, baby.  Part of the gig for bands staying at the Fructose Fortress is advertising your presence without giving up its super-duper secretive location, hashtag blessed etc, and this is my offering.  I’m not opposed to ostentation here and there, and I like candy. 

Post photo op, Jason’s shooting pool, Allen’s flying his drone and I’m in a sugar induced coma in the hot tub, glass of whiskey in one hand, cigar in the other.  It’s in moments like these I reflect on the fact that many friends my age are married with easily describable jobs and young families.  I'm in a hot tub, in my underpants, ashtray filled with gummy candy and a nice whiskey buzz preventing the one percent from harshing my mellow.  It’ll come as no surprise that I’m single.  I don’t own much- a few guitars, couple amps, a handful of clothes.  Inspired by back health and generally not having stuff, I ditched my bed, preferring instead a thin mat on the floor and a couple pillows.  You’d think that I’m about to launch into a tirade against the Man, the Industrialized Food Complex and see I’m already boring you.  I live a simple, uncluttered life and, in decluttering, I have more space for others. 

This blog’s actually been the catalyst for my downsizing.  On a recent, particularly dreary afternoon, I shut my laptop in disgust, declaring to my empty living room that I sucked, was totally useless and there's no point even finishing this sentence.  So, I started taking things to Goodwill.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  I started with my closet, donating clothes I hadn’t worn in years, then moved on to the garage, sorting through bric-a-brac that’d inexplicably made the cross country trip from Seattle to Nashville.  8 hrs later, I realized I could now pack everything I owned into my Toyota Corrolla and not even fill it half way.  It was time to retackle that blog post.  You're reading it now.  

For whatever reason, I’m living a kooky, Peter Pan lifestyle that seems to invite two perspectives.  One, I can search for holes, things I’m lacking, hopelessly comparing myself to friends buying homes on fat Amazon salaries.  Two, I can own my situation to an almost comical degree.  Get rid of everything.  Travel on a dime.  Talk to everyone.  Take nothing but pictures, spend nothing but time, trust I’ll become one with the Force eventually.  Guess which one I've chosen.  

I wrote a lyric recently- “I may be lonely but, when it’s time, I’ll let that go.”  For now, it’s me.  My shitty back, my foibles, but also my curiosity, my open-mindedness. 

I’m where I need to be.  When it’s time for a tiny Trevor perhaps or an infinitely patient woman convinces me to buy a bed, I trust I’ll have arrived there right on time. 

Update from the Stonerverse

Getting started is the hardest part.  Diligent musicians as we are, we’re usually still tasting the toothpaste at a gentleman’s noon, and that second pot of coffee’s perfect fuel for GTA rampage missions.  Naturally, those Bastards Must Pay. 

Adolescent bloodlust satiated, it’s time for lunch.  On this day, lunch consists of a banana, ice cream and the guilt from appreciating a surplus of corn syrup and potassium does not a hit record make.  But we do eventually settle into the project studio, fire up some amps and begin tossing ideas around.  The surrounding evergreens, perennial overseers of our lakeside retreat, rustle an underscore of judgement through a brisk, reluctantly summery breeze.  Get to work, Meat Sacks.  

We’re writing songs, everybody.  Good ones, lots of them, and they’re coming easily.  Our process has been kinda sorta under wraps, but I’m telling you now that the next chapter of Allen Stone and His Merry Men is well underway.  We’ve got two solid record’s worth of material and we’re super stoked.  It’s a 100% collaboration within the band and you can hear each member's unique creative voice in every tune.  The vibe’s eclectic and, for those of you who’ve seen a show, sounds very much like us.  One final writing session to be on the safe side and we’ll have it.  I think we already do.  

It’s an exciting feeling, knowing in your gut there’s something magical being made.  

We're just five friends, two pooches and one infinitely patient Aussie angel in a cabin somewhere deep in the heart of Bigfoot country, trying our best to be real good.  

Thank you all for being patient.  It’s worth it, I promise. 

Tour Bus Ramblings

It’s dark.  Tenebrous, aphotic, no natural light whatsoever.  It’s the easiest thing, spending your whole morning in womb-like inky blackness, but not this guy.  Up and at ‘em.  

I’m usually the first guy up in our band.  All this means is I’m the first one hit by the farts, foot oder and general foulness bunk ally’s been incubating for the past eight hours.  It’s formidable- even Oscar the Grouch is reaching for the Fabreeze- and I’m quickly navigating the discarded shoe obstacle course towards the relative oasis of the front lounge.

We’ve been blessed with very good bus drivers over the years- maniacs to a man, but smooth and steady on the road.  But pizza boxes, half empty beer cans and bags of Cheetos don’t possess gravity defying powers, and we’re in a moving metal tube after all.  I spend a few minutes picking things up, wet wiping exposed surfaces, and I fire up the Keurig.  It’s monotone whirring lulls me from my somnolence as I…wow, this thing got off the rails pretty quick.  This is a goddamn tour bus, not Geoffery fucking Chaucer.   

Writing’s a funny thing.  I’ve always enjoyed it, and getting my mind out on paper's always felt as natural as playing guitar or crafting tunes.  Am I a good writer?  Subjective, but probably not especially, no.  I write how I talk, though I know I’d be throat punched if I tossed around “aphotic” at the Crying Wolf- even East Nashvillians aren’t that Emo.  

This is the type of BS I mull over while sipping lukewarm Keurig juice in the front lounge.  We’re bouncing along, a few hours out from the venue, and I don’t feel like reading, playing Halo or contemplating the amount of Chef Boyardee in the cupboard above me- I just want to sit here, feel a bit sorry for myself and think about the road not traveled toward the actuarial sciences.  

Here I am.  I love this, it’s what’s I know, no longer my new normal but state of being.  A grown man, smart, capable, careening down some midwestern highway on a pirate ship filled with lost boys, a ship on which I can’t defecate.  That’s bus rule numero uno.  Ask the driver to stop, hot bag if you must, but under no circumstance does one defoul the onboard crapper.  It’s for liquid and show only.

Ok, this is getting real dumb.  Maybe it’s time for some Halo, after all.  

 

Checkered Shirts

I've been a full time touring musician for just over five years now.  For some, that's an eternity but, for me, it feels like a drop in the bucket.  It’s amazing how many things I’ve already forgotten.  In my shaking the memory tree and seeing what falls out, this blog’s become a welcome companion.

I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed and notice I wore recently the same checkered shirt I wore on February 2, 2013 in Rossland BC.  We played a gig there, presumably.  I don’t know why wearing the same shirt four years apart’s struck me as noteworthy.  I mean, inarguably I need more shirts.  I suppose I can’t help comparing myself to the (slightly) younger man in that photo.

Four years ago, I’m newly single, nominally killing it but building the tracks just ahead of the train.  A few days ago, that same shirt adorned the dad bod of an older, calmer schmuck lending advice to several up-and-coming Nashville musicians.  These up-and-coming Nashville musicians speak with the same hurried enthusiasm and unchallenged optimism I remember so vividly, one that traveling's made more measured.  I listen, forehead wrinkling in concentration, realizing that, somehow, I’ve become a guy who Knows Stuff. 

I sometimes wonder how I look to musicians early in their careers.  I'd like to think I'm this sage, Splinter from the Ninja Turtles kinda figure.  Maybe I'm a cautionary tale.  When you're 21, turning 30's about the most terrifying thing there is, and when 3-0 rears its ugly head there's no way you'll be blithering on like this dingus, right?  

It's at this point I realize I'm writing this in my underpants.  I'm happy about this, and I've worked hard for the honor.  I've paid my dues.  So, aspiring artists, enthusiastic craftspeople, practice, work, write, any number of verbs that require my using additional commas but, for the love of god, do so in your skivvies.  That's when you know a Grammy's imminent.  

 

 

Blog #15- I Will Not Vomit at the Radio Promo Event in Birmingham

I will not vomit at the radio promo event in Birmingham.  Oh, the parade of double whiskies last night sure seemed like a good idea and that 4am burrito tasted suspect, but I’m a professional goddammit, a veteran of gastro-intestinal discomfort brought on by imbecilic food choices and I WILL NOT VOMIT AT THE RADIO PROMO EVENT IN BIRMINGHAM.

I didn’t vomit, but sure felt like death.  At least I’m not being interviewed- our singer, who's beyond hung chowder, is barely holding on, eyes as shiny glazed as a recently zambonied hockey rink.  In between songs, I duck out into the hallway just in case All Things Must Go and catch my reflection in a framed Maroon 5 poster.  I’m wearing a cardigan.  I shouldn't be around people.  

We play “Sleep.”  I’m tasked with one half of the call-and-response in the bridge, which Allen Stone fans know well.  Count sheep!  Drink whiskaaaaaay!  I sound less thespian and more brain-craving zombie.  The station folks are professional to a fault, heaping upon us unwarranted praise while we’re hoping our breath doesn’t smell too horrifically like a frat party.  

There’s a time in every touring musician’s life when we have The Moment, a hopefully not rock-bottom instance where the candle comes to life and says ok, no more of this burning at both ends nonsense.  I’m not in Motely Crue, thank god.  My heart hasn’t stopped, I haven’t shot up in my parent's living room.  None the less, in that moment, sitting down with my head in my hands, I’m aware this can’t happen again. 

We musicians often define ourselves by our otherness, and I’ll happily defy convention by extending a middle finger to rock and roll cliche.  I’m going to be the guy who sticks around. 

Leather Clad Proctologists

Fueled by Kambucha, organic kale and legal cannabis, Allen Stone and His Merry Men inspire dance parties the world over.  This is a good thing, and we’re good at it.  We are, however, weirdos, and not the endearing kind to leather-clad proctologists, say.  “Unaware” is an unlikely feature on the Golf Channel or Fox and Friends, and I have a feeling this biker convention we're booked to play with OAR isn't going to go so well.  

I’m asked frequently how I handle hostile audiences.  First of all, do you, don’t over think things.  I mean, they hired you.  Secondly, make a set list and stick to it.  Read the room but, again, do you.  If you’re, hypothetically, a soul band known for singing soul music, do that- now isn’t the time for rambling non sequiturs or bombing at the Radisson.  If you’re contracted for an hour and fifteen, put 75 minutes worth of tunes on the set list, grit your teeth, power through and say “thanks for having us.”  Get off stage, collect the check, chug a beer.  You’ve earned it.

In this case, we aren’t actually booked for the biker convention per se- OAR is, and we’re piggy backing on their bill.  The promoters, and certainly audience, genuinely have no idea who we are and are authentically concerned when we produce a mic stand covered with plastic flowers.

We panic.  Our first song’s an ill-advised audible (best not leading with a ballad), followed by cryptic hand signals from our singer that we gather mean “jam.”  Which we do, but not in the southern-rock kinda guitarmony way that would’ve gone down well with our Trumpy audience.  We weren't booed I don't think, but dagger-like stares are a potent heckle. 

Experience teaches you that some shows are there so you can get to the next one, and if you treat them as such you’ll likely have a decent time.  Be a pro, take your lumps and move on.  And always, ALWAYS decorate mic stands with plastic flowers.   

 

 

Somber Vegas

I’m in my Justin Bieber-y kinda sorta bowl cut phase, wearing a bright blue sweater, H&M scarf and truck stop sunglasses indoors.  It’s 2012, at the Flamingo Hotel on the Vegas Strip, and I’m being filmed literally singing the praises of our former keyboardist, who’s passed out in the hallway.  Our singer, who passed out like a champ at 7pm, has puked and rallied and is ready for anything.  Anything, in this case, involves impromptu attempted cloth lines, giggling fits and solo missions for vodka Red Bulls.  

It’s our first time in Vegas as a band, and we’re excited.  The gig’s officially full time (we’re really doing it, Mom!) and we’re given permission to fire up the van and GO.  Show after show, one off after one off, obliterated truck stop restroom after obliterated truck stop restroom.

There’s no way of appreciating the fatigue and homesickness this kind of schedule invites until you’re fully in it.  Later that summer, I'd experience my first “oh shit oh shit what’s going on” moment.  There was, of course, no processing time before the road gobbled us back up, and I absent-mindedly drifted away from my previous life and the people in it.  The dust would settle 300+ shows later and I’d find myself somewhere, well, different.  

Our former keyboardist's now rallied and we’re puffing on cigars, exuberantly annoying fellow Strip stumblers.  He splits off in search of a strip club and I’m left on my own.  Under a somber moon, the noisy street washed in neon, I’m just a kid in an ill-fitting sweater with a lousy haircut, about as invincible as paper in a fire. 

An Ode To Vans

Any touring musician will tell you the van’s a sacred place.  An oasis of calm in a turbulent sea of alcohol fueled faux pax, it’s where you retreat when an enthusiastic fan really, REALLY wants to meet Allen.  After soundcheck, when the green room wreaks of sewage and the sound guy’d rather be literally anywhere else, it’s where you huddle for comfort.  When a room at the Days Inn may as well be a suite at the St. Regis, it’s where you sleep.  Any musician worth their salt’s spent more time in a van than the place they pay rent.

I have no problem admitting I’ve developed emotional attachments to two vehicles in my life, both vans.  And death traps, if I’m honest.

The first van we toured in was a blue Ford E 150.  A conversion van, this meant someone was tasked nightly with sleeping in the van to “protect the gear,” aka avoid the clown car situation that’s piling an entire band into a single roach infested motel room.  I volunteered to “protect the gear” many times.  All things considered, the blue Ford was pretty comfortable.  You could, for example, lie down behind the back seats on a kinda sorta makeshift platform.  I fondly recall being extremely sick on our first tour through Canada, keeled over on said platform, letting loose with awe-inspiring flatulence.  The incident, called “Sick Trev,” lives in infamy as the most offensive ass-related moment in the band’s history.  But I digress.  

The second van we toured in was a Dodge Sprinter.  Purchased from the Worst Ramada in the History of the World, I remember this being big news.  You could stand up in it, and there was enough room in-between the seats and sliding door for someone to repurpose my yoga mat as a mattress.  Sprinters are typically diesel, which saves a TON of money, and we were officially tall enough to be banned from highway driving near Cheyanne, Wyoming due to high winds.  A meth-addled semi driver clipped our Dodge Sprinter at a truck stop in Iowa, and I remember Jason chasing after him and thinking he might actually catch up.  Sure, sometimes the thing didn’t start and the sliding and front passenger doors both were broken but hey, what’re a few bumps and bruises?  We fit all our gear in the back, which still amazes me, and never bothered building a barrier between the back storage area and rear seats.  On numerous occasions, we were all buried in guitars, cymbals and merch boxes after a sudden stop.  

My combined mileage total in these vehicles easily tops 400,000.  Through their windows, I saw America for the first time.  When we formed the band, things took off quickly-  first gig, June 2011, Conan O’Brien, October that same year.  We were largely strangers when we piled into the blue Ford.  Jumping off the Dodge Sprinter for the last time, we were brothers. 

A Plate of Nachos

The first Allen Stone song I ever learned was Your Eyes.  Oh, oh, oh, your eeeeyyyyyyyes.  If you’d told me I’d be playing that song for drunk Japanese salarymen at Blue Note Tokyo a year or so down the road, I’d have legitimately laughed out loud.

I’m asked often how I met Allen and the fellas, and the honest answer’s I didn’t give the whole situation much thought.  I mean, how could I?  I was going through an unfortunate kinda-sorta Justin Beiber-y bowl cut phase, and Allen was rocking oversized sweaters.  The keyboard player at the time, upon our first meeting, produced fresh biscuits from his jacket pocket and espoused Harry Potter conspiracy theories (“that’s why it rains so much here, Harry Potter’s too popular.  It’s WITCHCRAFT!”).  We were, and still are, a bunch of buffoons.  This’d be a quick four show run through California and that’s it- I’d be back to pondering my place in the universe in seconds flat.  

There was a first meeting, obviously, and it occurred over a plate of nachos at Matador in Ballard.  We talked shop.  “Shop,” such as it was, consisted of Allen acknowledging that, yes, there were shows in California, and he'd recently jury rigged a Play Station setup in his van.  Tiger Woods Golf, I was assured, would be an option.  I was still in, right?

Allen and I knew each other from the scene in Seattle and the Unaware video was picking up steam around this time.  It was exciting, watching the view count jump by a few thousand everyday but, ultimately, unconvincing.  There’s a validation false economy in the internet-driven music world, wherein those quick dopamine hits from likes and retweets convince us we’re lighting the world on fire.  I was curious, and more than a little skeptical, if we’d have an audience outside Seattle.  

In these first weeks, I’d discover that Heavenly Donuts in Redding, CA is the biggest misnomer in America.  And, yes, it was in fact human urine on the sheets at the Shasta Lodge (we’d stay there multiple times).  We were a rag tag bunch of miscreants, and I’d purchased a bright blue collared shirt for the occasion.  

If professional touring can be likened to immaculately crafted pop mega-hits, we were on some free-jazz shit.

I'm Wearing a Checkered Shirt. It's a Lovely Day for a Checkered Shirt.

It’s summer of 2012 and Greg Ehrlich and I are sitting on the patio of a packed hipster eatery.  I’m probably having eggs benedict.  A few minutes into our man date, my skull’s grazed by a fast-moving metal projectile.

I know how the above sentence reads- sadly, on Manhattan Beach, trust fund money discourages badass, James Bond-style gun play.  Turns out, the cafe’s awning's exploded, sending parts every which way, one of which kisses my cranium and clanks to rest about ten yards down the road.  I'm lucky- being hit squarely in the back of the head, experts tell me, isn't good.  I'm looking forward to a glorious old age involving drooling and non-sensical diatribes, no need ushering in that chapter prematurely.  

The cafe management handles themselves with the utmost grace, apologizing profusely and comping our meal, and Greg and I enjoy a tasty brunch.   We leave a sizable tip.  It’s what you do.  Besides, no one at the restaurant's at fault and I’m fine.  As we get up, some botoxed catastrophe of a woman stops me, baffled and enraged in the kind of way only someone who’s never worked for a living can be.  

“Are you fucking serious?” she moans.  “You left a tip?!  I can’t believe it!”  Her husband, similarly botoxed and tanned in the kind of way only someone who’s never worked for a living can be, doesn't look up from his phone.  

It’s worth noting several bloody mary’s are comped along with our meal and I’m feeling mischievous.  I stare at her for a few seconds and declare, “I’m wearing a checkered shirt.  It's a lovely day for a checkered shirt.”  The look on her face is worth a thousand words, squared.  I walk away.  

The moral of this story?  There isn't one.  Just, please, always tip your server.  And, even if you’re born rich, work.  Do something, anything really.  And, for the love of christ, age gracefully.  You're not fooling anybody, and what's so bad about not being dead?  

A Beige Wall of a Human Being

This is my first summer off the road in five years.  It’s weird, seeing all my friend’s views through tour bus windows, knowing I’ll be populating my Instagram feed with kittens.  Possibly miniature pigs.  

For the time being, sitting back and breathing deep the glorious perfume of Music City suits me fine.  Any non-douche thriving in this business has earned their weight in Simolians, and many of my friends are successful beyond their wildest childhood dreams.  They’re legends, all of them.  And it’ll be my turn soon enough to embody that Bob Seger song. 

I realized early in my current chapter that jumping between extreme noise and quiet's a recipe for alcoholism.  Balance is a taboo subject amongst touring folks- we define ourselves by pain endured and calamity’s dodged.  But getting eight hours sleep feels good.  Oh, it really does.  Enjoying a Tennessee sunrise does wonders for the soul, and my spirit's somewhat fragile after hammering at the red line for a half decade.

I’m boring.  I mean, I’m writing a blog post about balance, for god’s sake.  It's a hipster cornucopia outside the Frothy Monkey, every beard gleaming and immaculate.  I’m in a gray t-shirt and non-skinny jeans.  Just a beige wall of a human being.  Boring.  Or, perhaps, incognito?  Somehow, over the past five years of relentless travel, mistakes and minuscule victories, I’ve cultivated a sense of presence and trust in myself.  Weird.  Mercifully, “me” has become something worth embracing.

So, for now, my tucus rests in Nashville.  I think I'll take a distillery tour next week.  They’re starting to play Phish through the outside speakers.  Time to go. 

Travel, Travel, then Travel Some More

“Are you tired of touring?” is a question I get often, and the answer’s no.  I think the answer’s no because I don’t tour so much as I travel.  What's the difference?  Well, here’s a typical tour day for most- limp out of the hotel room/bus/van just in time for lobby call, collapse onto a green room couch, stare in zombie-like enthrallment at an iPhone screen, hit up the Chipotle near the club, play the gig, drink free booze on the rider, pass out after stubbornly refusing to brush your teeth.  Sound good to you?  Me neither.  So, I do none of these things (except play the gig).  I get out and see the town, explore, get lost.  I travel.  

Travel, in my opinion, highlights what already's there.  Enjoy people?  Well, you’re in luck- people are, it turns out, everywhere.  Dig exotic cuisine, or at the very least a Chicago style hot dog?  Go nuts!  More significantly, if you’re a person who remains fluid, flexible and good humored in the face of delays, multi-faceted absurdities and people being good ol’ fashioned douchebags, chances are the open road will treat you fine.  

If you prefer, however, the company of Netflix over exchanging pleasantries with the barista, well, travel’s gonna wear you down.  “I just have to sleep in my own bed” isn’t a characteristic of many professional travelers.  Most people are thermostat at 72 kinda folks, and I get it, nothing wrong with that whatsoever.  Stay home, grow vegetables and enjoy your low likelihood of hosting a monkey parasite.

I’m odd.  I enjoy being home, sure, but if I’m not traveling after about a week of recharging I genuinely feel like I’m letting myself down.  My livelihood affords me many luxuries, principally the freedom to sling a hastily packed bag over my shoulders, book a ticket and just GO.  It won’t always be like this, and I’m not worried about the grass being greener on the other side.  The grass is plenty green in Iceland, and I’m going to experience it first hand.  

For anyone reading this who’s new to touring, traveling a ton and feeling burnt, or generally stuck in a rut, here’re a couple things I do that changed the game.  Rather than Yelp something for lunch, ask somebody.  Sounds simple, but it’s effective.  People love talking about where they’re from, and this initial exchange almost always leads to additional recommendations.  Read a work of fiction set in the place you’re going.  The good stuff, I’ve found, manifests more readily through stories than Trip Advisor.  "All cities are the same" is bullshit.  Don't become that guy.  

Travel.  Travel, travel and travel some more.  Especially in these bizarre and unstable times, experiencing people and places first hand in real time is the most valuable currency that exists.  Chances are I'll bump into you somewhere out there.  First beer's on me.  

Seeed, pt. 1

I went through a phase about four years ago where I’d salute in front of the audience.  Thankfully, it was short lived, but I got some neat shots out of it.  

This was taken in Dortmund, Germany, the day before my birthday and first time playing an arena.  I’m throwing up slightly in my mouth reliving the post show celebrations.  I dimly recall conga lines and challenging grizzled Russian crew vets in arm wrestling, nauseatingly emboldened by rum and cokes and champagne.  Never mix those two.  Our tour manager mercifully had in her possession anti-nausea medication they typically prescribe chemo patients.

It’s 2013 and we’re opening for a German band called Seeed.  Yes, with three “e’s”.  I’d never heard of them and assumed we’d be first of three on a club bill, an appropriate slot for a baby band with only one hastily planned Berlin show under our belts.  You can imagine my surprise when I emerge from my bunk to elated bandmates proclaiming, “they have a juicer in catering!  A JUICER!”   

Inside the arena, I’m greeted by a fleet of ping-pong tables and everyone from management to crew producing custom paddles from designer cases.  It's one thing being generally next level- it's entirely another being next level at ping-pong.  I’m asked in German whether I’d like to play.  I answer, in English, yes.  In both German and English, my ass is handed to me 21-0.  Ridicule, dear readers, demolishes any language barrier.  

Seeed’s performing a pre-concert concert for contest winners, dry-running their new show while also giving diehard fans a peek behind the curtain.  Turns out, they’re an 11 piece hip-hop/reggae/pop/jazz band singing mostly in German that sells out arenas throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  Huh?  Tonight’s show would be “small,” their production manager informs me.  Only ten thousand.  And all their fans show up for the opener.  Oh, and they’re usually hostile.  The last opening band quit the tour.  

This is the first of several posts about Seeed- there are so many stories worth sharing from the couple weeks spent in their world- but what struck me right away was how large the musical world really is.  As an American, we’re taught that success in the US is the mountaintop.  Well,  here’s a band I’ve never heard of, popular in only a few countries, playing to tens of thousands every night.  It’s my first time on a bill with a giant band not a household name in America, they're playing music that would send most A&R folks running and they CRUSH.  

In 2013, I'm beginning to understand that perhaps my path shouldn't emulate anyone else's.  Four years after the fact, I'm realizing these few weeks with Seeed were some of the most musically formative of my life.