Ass Berry

I’m writing this is Asbury Park NJ, pronounced az-bury and not ass-berry, as I was brusquely informed by a heavily tattooed barista this morning. We’re playing a sold out show tonight at the House of Indepedents, basically a show for NYC fans who weren’t able to get into Brooklyn Steel, and it’s a treat getting away from the hustle and bustle, walking along an actual beach, and allowing myself to fall into a gentle trance as waves break against the outcrop of barnacle encrusted rocks on which I’m sitting. 

My amp started blowing fuses right before our NYC show, and while I think we’ve fixed the issue, I can’t help but feel nervous, what with my being technologically well-intentioned but, ultimately, a complete waste of space. But years of touring have taught me never to panic, and worst case scenario I can always hop off stage and start a conga line, which would be more impactful than any guitar solo I might play, anyway.

And now I’m thinking about how the town of ass-berry is a sorta Brigadoon type situation, appearing once every 100 years, where avuncular men in top hats reach betwixt their cheeks and produce tiny, gem-like fruits, on offer only to their presumptive betrothed. 

And now I’m thinking about how this has gone off the rails and I’m thoroughly wasting your time. I should really get ready for the show. 

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Brooklyn Steel

I’m writing this in the green room of Brooklyn Steel in, well, Brooklyn, a preposterously expensive haircut in my near future in anticipation of tonight’s sold out show. 

Some of my most empowering moments as a Berklee student involved taking the train into the city and experiencing, well, everything - music, theater, food, fool-hardy yet necessary fallings in and out of love, the whole gambit. It is difficult here, and overwhelming, the palpable nihilism and miasma of stale, street-lining garbage all too real, but there’re few cities where so much life happens so quickly and, much like touring, you’ll find out in a hurry what you’re capable of.

In a few hours, two thousand pleasantly inebriated and otherwise joyful fans will pack into Brooklyn Steel, and in the post sold out show euphoria I’m sure I’ll promise myself I’ll move here. That is until we hit the next city, and the next, and the next, and a nomad’s heart hums a familiar tune.

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Uncountable Stars

As we begin our trip up the Eastern seaboard, I’m wondering why this tour wasn’t routed in reverse, hitting tropical paradises like Detroit and Toronto in mid October, when hypothermia’s only mostly likely, and victory lapping around Arizona at the same time we’re currently scheduled to freeze to death in Minneapolis. It’s not even that cold in NYC, by delusional, New York Football Giants fan standards, but given I spent the better part of a week complaining about Florida, I suppose this is the karmic pendulum swinging back into balance.

A good friend describes touring as “nearly glamorous,” which is the most perfect summation of anything ever, and in this spirit, honoring our Secaucus NJ tradition of dining at Buffalo Wild Wings and making a bee line for the hotel lobby bathroom makes me inordinately happy. Spirits are high, and the tour’s doing well (thank you!), but I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open as I’m writing this and haven’t been acknowledging how depleted I am. Time, I think, to read a little more, drink a little less, and spend a few more mornings staring out the front lounge window, daydreaming about home cooked meals, my hopefully someday Golden Retriever, and the uncountable stars in an unspoiled Hawaiian sky. 

Just Be A Musician

We’re officially halfway through this 48 show extravaganza and celebrating in what’s easily the most luxurious green room on this tour - hot tub, dry sauna, pool table AND ping pong AND an indoor basketball court AND a Labradoodle named Kermit. NorVA in Norfolk VA, you’ve outdone yourself, and indeed every other comparably sized venue in the country. I’m writing this nicely schvitzed with a suitcase filled with clean underpants. Tour bliss.

I received a message from a young fan recently, and the exchange made me happy:


Young fan: I want to be a musician when I grow up. Is that crazy?

Me: Yes. Growing up is highly overrated. Just be a musician.

And the latter phrase has become a mantra of sorts. Fearing imminent rejection? Just be a musician. Money trouble? Just be a musician. A foreboding and nebulous future? Just be a musician. Precious little has made or currently makes sense in my life, but I’m grateful for the omnipresent fulcrum of my judgment slowing everything down and helping me appreciate the absurdity of worrying so goddamn much.

Being a musician’s what I’m best at, what I love, and it’s taken me on a beautifully disorienting ride. 

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Episode 25 - Ari Herstand

Episode 25 of the podcast features the handsome and erudite Ari Herstand! He’s a solo artist, curator of popular music business advice blog Ari’s Take, and author of How To Make It In The New Music Business. Ari’s a multi-faceted, DIY guru, and it was a pleasure picking his brain.

Take a listen!

Ari’s also a loyal reader of this newsletter (thank you!) and suggested, correctly, that I should include a subscription link, just in case emails are forwarded and new readers want to follow along. So, here ya go…

Subscribe (if you like)

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Self Care

I’m writing this near the campus of the University of South Carolina, which I’ve just learned is home to the largest Ernest Hemingway collection in the world. I’m tempted to download and re-read The Sun Also Rises, a manuscript, I’ve again just learned, he finished in two freaking months, but today’s meandering attention span compels me to post a puppy video on social media and sip coffee absentmindedly while staring at a droopy, peculiar tree. This is what halfway through tour feels like, folks.

It’s on days like these I go through my self care checklist and make sure I’m not neglecting anything:

Am I excersizing?

Am I meditating?

Am I at least attempting to groom myself?

Am I being kind to others?

Today, I did 20mins of yoga, took a long walk as moving meditation, showered (still a luxury on tour), and paid for a broke college kid’s coffee. This simple mindfulness looks a little different each day, and it’s a wonderful exercise in trading the Herculean for the uncomplicated.

I have precious little figured out on this spinning blue orb, but I’m glad I can at least check in with myself and determine whether or not I’m being an asshole. Progress is progress, however small. 

Moog!

I highly encourage anyone visiting Asheville NC to stop by the Moog factory. Moog synthesizers are ubiquitous in the music world, responsible for some of the most iconic sounds captured on record, and that they’re a small, employee owned company in a hippy town in the heart of Appalachia makes the experience that much sweeter. 

The free tour of the factory floor’s comprehensive, but just hanging out and messing around on the myriad synthesizers and bleep-bloop trinkets in the Moog store’s worth the trip (I could spent hours on the Theramin alone).

Zero musical skill required, and inspiration’s guaranteed. Picture myself, Swatty, Tim Burke (production manager) and Carter Adams (lighting director) giddily twiddling nobs and clapping our hands with glee.

 

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What We Imagine

If it weren’t for the southern drawl and proliferation of establishments advertising Tennessee whiskey, you’d think we were in Vermont rather that Knoxville - the trees are a tapestry of autumnal hues, flannel’s loudly advertised in every window, and even the fried chicken biscuits are doused in maple syrup. 

I haven’t been walking much on this tour and want to take advantage before the scenery transitions from deciduous trees to concrete jungle, so I wake up early and head off site, letting my mind wander to a conversation I had with a fan a few weeks ago - she met her husband at one of our shows in 2012, and since then they’ve seen the band a bunch of times all over the country. Most of their wedding party was made up of friends they met at Al Stone concerts, and if it’s not too much trouble would I mind telling the rest of the guys how much the music means not only to her and her husband, but also to the most important people in their lives. And she also likes the new bobbleheads. 

Now, that’s a lot to lay on a guy in slippers and sweatpants, on his way to another night being jostled to sleep in a coffin sized bunk, but it was of course amazing to hear. What we do as musicians, and indeed as generally righteous humans, radiates out far beyond what we imagine, and I’m grateful for the perspective.


Decadence Beyond Measure

Another great thing about living in Nashville’s you’re guaranteed a night in your own bed about halfway through a long tour. It does wonders for the soul, and given how many horrified responses I received after my tour showers post, you’ll be happy knowing I took several real showers today, with actual water and everything. Decadence beyond measure.

As I’m writing this in my living room, excited to continue the tour and with bus call a few hours away, I’m thinking about the zero to one hundred back to zero energetic rollercoaster we touring musicians know well, and how vital it is carrying the positive momentum from a successful tour over into civilian life. At the end of every run, there’s the classic holy shit moment of wait, hold on, is this it? Benmont Tench, keyboardist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, said he came off every tour convinced they’d never work again, and if freaking Benmont Tench felt that way then I don’t begrudge myself a spot of self-indulgence. 

It’s important trusting the good mojo we’re putting out there will pull equally neat whatnots and weirdos into our orbit, and in this spirit I’m focusing on staying present and celebrating an awesome tour, confidant that, on balance, I’m not assing the whole thing up, and next moves will reveal themselves in time.

Thank You, Music City

I’m writing this in the green room of the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville TN, my adopted hometown. The show’s sold out, which feels good on any night, but especially in a city where I’ve experienced so much transformation.

I’ve lived in Music City for about three years, and I’m in a markedly different place than when my 2003 Toyota Corrolla first limped down Broadway. As musicians, it’s easy getting bogged down by the usual distractions - why isn’t my record selling, I wish there were more people at the shows, the list goes on - and sometimes it’s important pressing pause and simply asking “who was I then, and who am I now?” 

In Seattle, I was bored, with myself and the band, ready for a change but ignoring every sign the universe threw at me. In Nashville, I’m cultivating a working relationship with my inner demons, creating work I’m proud of, and meeting the high standard I’ve set for myself. The daily minutia of being an artist can be discouraging, of course, but I’m able now to smile at the person I see in the mirror.

Thank you, Nashville, for welcoming me, providing space to grow, and giving my dormant confidence permission to take the wheel. 

Tour Showers

I’m writing this from Charleston, SC, hilariously juxtaposed against cadets from the Citadel as I’m walking back from Walgreens, having acquired wet wipes for what’s affectionately known as a “tour shower,” an unfortunate and all-too-common scenario where there’s no actual shower, and one’s nether regions don’t wash themselves...

The cadets are clipping along on their daily 10k, clean shaven and buzz cut, slaloming around parked cars and wheezing tourists, and for a moment I envy their day’s structure, the familiar refrain creeping in of am I working hard enough, have I worked hard enough, and maybe it’s too late for me, whatever that means.

But my emo inner monologue falls to the wayside as I settle into a booth at Rarebit, a Moscow Mule and good book in hand. Day drinking, one of life’s profound treasures, I imagine’s frowned upon at the Citadel, and the thousand or so fans lining up outside the Music Farm remind me how privilaged I am to wander this peculiar road.

Margaritaville

There’s something about Florida bringing out my infatuation with avant-rock band Sigur Ros, ‘cause here I am again, writing this in my bunk, the oppressive autumnal Ft Lauderdale humidity thousands of miles away as my imagination teleports me high above Icelandic fjords, or at least somewhere where “Margaritaville” isn’t wafting out of a celebrity chef themed outpost featuring twenty dollar quesadillas.

I’ve been hard on Florida these past several days, and I acknowledge that my judging the Land of the Disco Loudout’s similar to shitting on Nashville having only shot Jägermeister on Broadway. There has to be more to this place than poisonous nocturnal animals, vicious retirees, and brown note inducing throb courtesy of DJ Chad McAsshole. If there’re any native Floridians reading this, please send recommendations, sincerely - I need my relationship with our 27th state readjusted.

Oh, and here’s a link to the Sigur Ros song I’m listening to currently.

Comrades in Arms

I’m writing this in my bunk, with Allen warming up his voice in the front lounge and the neighborhood of Ybor City in Tampa, FL bracing for imminent debauchery courtesy of tourists hammered on Fireball, on the hunt for hastily rolled cigars. I’m listening to Sigur Ros through fancy noise canceling headphones, but today’s one of those days where you can’t quite steal a moment for yourself, and Jonsi’s soaring falsetto’s only hammering home that broods of feral chickens await outside rather than gorgeous Icelandic vistas. 

I’m feeling the tour grind pretty hard today, probably due to these goddamn disco loud outs moving everything up a couple hours, more than enough to disrupt self-care rituals, compounded with the indignation that we’re evidently lower on the totem pole than some dingus with a laptop entertaining small time coke dealers. But, as I mentioned yesterday, the fans are out in force, a visit from Al Stone and friends long overdue, and I’m grateful for the chemistry we’ve built as a band and crew - I may feel out of sorts, but a truly bad night’s impossible thanks to my comrades in arms.

Disco Loadout in the Sunshine State

Florida’s an interesting place to play a show, if you even bother making the trip. 

Hitting New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Charlotte consecutively is easy, but just getting in and out of the Sunshine State adds a couple of logistically prohibitive travel days, especially touring in a van - consequently, not a ton of shows happen down here, which means the venues are neglected (the moldy carpet fumes I’m breathing in are no doubt taking years off my life), and bands often deal with what’s called a “disco loadout,” a playful term for an infuriating scenario wherein you’re packing out your show while another’s loading in, usually some DJ/Cocaine Cowboy situation, a classic move pulled by greedy venues hoping to double their money with zero concern for crew safety or the fan experience. Tonight, we play at seven freaking thirty to accommodate a “single ladies night” at 10pm, which I can only imagine attracts the cream of the bachelorette crop here in Orlando.

All this to say, I dig playing shows in Florida, precisely because it’s a tough nut to crack, and the fans REALLY love seeing the band, and there’s never been a time where some act of god hasn’t almost derailed our beleaguered train (torrential downpours, in today’s case). Little about this line of work makes any sense, and it’s masochistically satisfying bringing the party to the one state in the union that makes even less. 

Orlando, Tampa and Ft Lauderdale, here we come!

 

Heart of Dixie

The last time I played a show in Mobile AL was in 2012, the year the Allen Stone Electric Ensemble left Seattle in a shitty Ford van and returned, 315 days later, in a tour bus, triumphant, but mostly bewildered by the all-consuming, exponential growth that rendered our previous lives unrecognizable.

In my song Free From Me, the “moment in Mobile” I wrote about doesn’t refer to infidelity, as most have assumed - way back in 2012, I took a post show wander, seeking respite from the drunken ruckus, eventually falling into one-sided conversation with a cluster of stars visible through wispy, autumnal clouds. “I have no idea what’s going on,” I say out loud, “and I’m scared.”

Six years seems like both an eternity and drop in the bucket - I remember vividly the homesickness and sheer exhaustion my celestial confidants witnessed that evening, but struggle recalling the version of myself who didn’t sleep like a baby to the whirring of wheels against pavement. It’s a beautiful evening in the Heart of Dixie - I think I’ll take a stroll, resplendent in my Parrothead approved shirt, and let my mind roll over the prismatic shards of a past life.

Rapturous Slurping

I’ve become a devout believer in doing absolutely nothing productive on days off, and today I’ve followed through with gusto. I’m wandering around the French Quarter in a preposterously oversized Hawaiian shirt, rapturously slurping the brains out of shrimp heads in between rounds of Tiki drinks (check out Beach Bum Berry’s Latitude 29, best Piña Colada of my life). Touring is physically and emotionally taxing, and I’ve learned to trust the restorative powers of buffoonery - thankfully, I’m among kindred spirits.

New Orleans is rough, dirty, and fiercely proud, with much of the good stuff hidden down nondescript alleyways and behind shuttered windows, unwelcoming without the right guide. And, of course, here I am, dressed like an ass, day drinking with the mid-western horde. But it’s a much needed day off, spirits are high, and sometimes you gotta eat your weight in hushpuppies and wash ‘em down with ironic cocktails. Sue me. 

And how can you not be grateful for friends like these? 

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