Ephemeral Woods

The picture below was taken at Sound Emporium in Nashville back in February(ish) of last year. I’m singing Coldplay, alone to myself in the main tracking room of Studio A, entirely for juvenile amusement, knowing that producer Jamie Lidell’s libel to poke his head around the corner and ask, “what in the bloody hell are you singing that rubbish for?”

Those sessions feel like a long time ago because, well, they were. Making music with labels and managers etcetera, just like anything else, is a double-edged sword. The plus sides - access and clout and all that - necessarily require there being more cooks in the kitchen, varyingly distracted and enthusiastic cooks, and a couple years can go by before a record sees the light of day. 

In this line of work, a couple years is an eternity. Things are perpetually shifting within the business, and from the musician side, so much life’s condensed into such short periods of time that your January 1st self’s guaranteed to be unrecognizable to the, ideally, more cultured specimen at year’s end. Did we even make this record? The guy wearing maroon pants sure did, but he’s long gone.

I’d just started writing the MoaT back then, and I’m grateful for it’s providing a trail of pebbles through increasingly ephemeral woods, back to the person I used to be. 

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Genie Pants

With backline tech/stage manager extraordinaire, Steven J “Bluto” Libby, circa 2014. You’re right to be envious of our genie pants.

The band was still loading gear then, and it was the highlight of my night taking orders from Bluto and Bear, ideally not making a mess of their unmatched Tetrising. At the time, my relationship with the road was, to put it charitably, complicated - my previous life, one where I was comfortably ensconced in secure digs with a woman who loved me, was a year or so in the rearview mirror, and the idea of going home, such as it was, didn’t rate highly.

So, I kept moving. Tours ran into each other, and downtime was spent on couches, in hotels, and sleeping upright in vehicles requiring boarding passes. I was self-soothing through movement, not yet ready to confront the myriad changes in my life and what they meant. 

Thing are now, in all ways, better. I love touring - every aspect of it, every job, permutation of a job, or haphazard flailing that passes as a job. Everything about life on the road’s preposterous, and as a dude who’s just smart enough to convince himself he’s got answers, being thrust into an environment where precious little makes sense is an invitation to set aside the tweed jacket and punk rock my soul into euphoria.

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A Single Rose

January/February of 2013. The Allen Stone Electric Ensemble’s playing a show at the Red Mountain Ski resort in Western Canada. As you might guess from the photo below, I don’t remember much about our performance and, to my shame, don’t remember much about quite a few things during this time. I was entering a chapter of “forced change” as it was put to me recently, and processing via the time honored traditions of drinking too much and carousing just enough to be gossip worthy. As much as I’ve ever been a dickhead in my life, it was then. And I still own that shirt.

I’m lucky - the part of my brain that endorses face drug benders in Reno never got switched on, and being raised in a fastidious household meant anything other than perfect grammar and balancing peas on the backs of forks was unthinkable (Never scoop! What are we? Barbarians?!). Going off the rails, such as it was, was more tame than most Sadie Hawkins dances.

But it’s a time I’m grateful for. At the proverbial fork in the road, I wobbled down the bedimmed path just far enough to realize what lurked around the next bend, course correcting, as any self-respecting man who folds his underpants would, toward the part of myself that wonders if she, you know, REALLY likes me, with a single rose trembling in hand.

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Consistency

This newsletter’s taught me a lot - that a lunatic, redneck neighbor can be an ally when properly mollified with edible marijuana products, I overuse adverbs, and consistency over intensity results in a hefty body of work without a single nervous breakdown!

Prior to starting the MoaT, my work habits were pretty much textbook dysfunctional - long hours, high stress, with precious little to show for it other than burnout. Over the course of writing something everyday for fifteen months, I’ve learned to trust daily micro accomplishments over bursts of idiocy masquerading as self-proclaimed genius. 

I stumbled upon this video today. I don’t know why Simon Sinek’s credited as the speaker, but the content’s spot on, a neat breakdown of why intensity’s glorified but, ultimately, damaging as a go-to. 

 

YouTube Comments

Every once in a while, when I’m needing a little pick-me-up, I catch up on Allen Stone YouTube comments. These are waters for infrequent toe dipping, but sometimes I can’t help myself.

For the most part, the Al Stone online world’s pretty chill, especially when it comes to yours truly. “I didn’t know John Mayer played guitar for Allen,” “Dude looks like John Mayer,” and “check out the JM wannabe” feature prominently, and I have to concede their accuracy, or at least being more flattering than “check out Steve Buscemi on guitar.”

Some comments are mean, and more than a few inspiringly bizarre, but that’s kinda what you’d expect, given the context. 

However, what surprised me today was reading the comments on Fred Wilson’s excellent Venture Capital newsletter, which I subscribe to and recommend, only to find the same sexually suggestive GIFs and lazily caustic conspiracy theory nonsense.

It is, I suppose, encouraging that someone finds a boomerang of a dog humping another dog cogent analysis of both their current portfolio and my guitar solos. That feels right to me, for some reason.

What’s discouraging is realizing nowhere’s safe from trolls, and everything we put out there’s fair game for flat earth nutsos, or at least someone who thinks they can do the thing better. 

If you’ve been receiving particularly vitriolic online bullshit lately, consider following Patton Oswalt’s example.  

From Battle

In response to my “Fire’s Still Burning” post from a couple days ago (link below), a reader sent this quote:

Academics get their content from curators. Curators get their content from creators. Creators get their content from battle.  

During today’s rehearsal for the new band’s show on Saturday, that last phrase in particular resonated. This whole being center stage thing’s a new pair of pants, and while I’m doing a decent job of not descending into over-analysis and unwarranted trepidation, I’m nervous in a kind of way I haven’t felt in years.

But as we settle into our groove, the muscle memory takes over, and I’m reminded that this is what I know, that it feels natural not because I am, in fact, a natural, but because of the thousands of shows in which I’ve sounded like an absolute asshole, the few thousand more in which I’ve sounded halfway passible, and the, like, seven I’d say I’ve objectively nailed.

If nothing else, I’ve been to battle, time and time again. And I’m going to enjoy to hell out of Saturday.

Fire's Still Burning

I spent a couple hours on the phone yesterday with a friend who was recently dropped, in notably Machiavellian fashion, by a major label.

Music is a gnarly business. We’re commoditizing the parts of ourselves about which we’re fiercely proud, that require inordinate vulnerability to coax from their hiding places, and expected to entrust them to largely unvetted people. 

That said, you won’t encounter anyone who’s successful who doesn’t have a few horror stories in their not-too-distant past. It’s sort of a right of passage.

The key is picking up the pieces, after an appropriate amount of fist shaking at the universe. Label dropped you? Fine. Release music however you want, and build fans that way. Label trying to sign you? Cool. Get to know the team. Ask LOTS of questions. Trusting people’s important, provided they’ve earned it. 

Cry, disparage, curse, trash whatever room you happen to be in, and question whether anything’s been worth it, ever. Do it again. Then, sit down with a guitar, write a song, and walk around for the rest of the day with a smug look of satisfaction on your face, knowing that the fire’s still burning, and always will be. 

Waltzing Gremlins

Today marks the 439th day in a row I’ve written something via the MoaT.

Some posts have been objectively good. Others, sorta medium good. Some, especially more recently in my opinion, haven’t been that great. 

And yes, such is the nature of doing something everyday - you win some, you lose some, blah blah blah etc. I don’t beat myself up, not too badly anyway. 

That said, it’s interesting using the MoaT as a barometer for where I’m at. For example, I’m writing this about a half hour before the newsletter auto sends, which objectively isn’t the best timing if readable, substantive prose is the goal. My favorite time to write the MoaT is in the morning, when I’m most creative and focused. Why didn’t I write this morning, or the previous five? I’ve had the time. What’s distracting me? 

Writing the MoaT provides a daily opportunity to check in with myself, agenda free. Some days, like today, I don’t like what I find.

But just as I’ve committed to chucking a couple hundred words each day into the judgement-free embrace of the internet, so too shall I address every Gremlin as it waltzes, uninvited, into the party, armed with uncomfortable truths.

Kooky Politics

I’m driving southeast on 24 towards Chattanooga, tendrils of cloud whispering and winding through matchstick trees, stretching in an unbroken blanket over undulating countryside. I have a couple days free, and the thought of getting the hell out of dodge for 24 hours fills me with a giddiness that fellow travelers know well.

Chattanooga’s been called the “Portland of the South,” which anyone who’s been to both knows is grossly inaccurate. But it is raining, and you’re likely to encounter people requesting hemp milk, so I suppose it’s not entirely without merit. My original objective of going rock climbing’s thwarted on account of the rain, so I’ll instead spend tomorrow brewerie hopping, finishing songs, and reminding myself that when the path seems hidden, or generally impenetrable, that is, on balance, a good thing - otherwise, any old asshole could find it.

Travel’s nourishing. Things that were once nebulous and frustrating are drawn into sharper focus - the verse really should go like THIS after all, the chorus should go like THAT, and she’s just not that into you and that’s ok because you like your interests and bizarro life and being benignly confounding’s just fine thank you very much.

And, it’s a reminder that your reality’s so much more than one place, one social circle, or one industry’s kooky politics. The world’s a big place, multi-faceted and nuanced, not unlike your subtle evolution within it. 


 

Talented Swines

 

As artists, we should endeavor to collaborate with people who remind us that being the most talented swine in the room is the enemy of growth, catastrophically boring, and must be avoided at all costs.

Working with Gideon and Gabe Klein is kicking my ass in all the best ways, inspiring me to write from a place of previously untapped vulnerability. I’m digging deeper than I ever have.

I’m so happy this new band’s becoming such an important part of my life. 

 

 

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Oasis of Calm

This past week’s been challenging when it’s come to writing the MoaT. I’m pretty burned out at the moment and just haven’t felt like it, and knowing there’s an engaged readership on the receiving end of my inelegant ramblings doesn’t help. 

But I haven’t skipped a day yet.

I’m reminded that the process of doing a thing is almost always more revelatory than the finished product.

That it’s ok entertaining every variation on a theme as to why something shouldn’t get done, letting self-doubt take up the majority of your creative real estate in the process (like it has for me tonight), then doing the thing anyway.

That being an engaged, creative human requires unique and unerring vulnerability, and doing the thing you say you’re going to do is an oasis of calm in a disquiet world. 

Naturally

Allen Stone fans, rejoice! 

We’ve been playing “Naturally” live for over three years, and it’s finally, officially, out in the world.

I’m especially stoked that Al and the label decided to use our live recording from Studio X in Seattle - the vibe that day was magical, and it was awesome contributing to the legacy of such a historic room shortly before it was forced to close its doors permanently. Changing times can be bittersweet.

”Naturally” is very much the brainchild of Swatty and Allen. The band added the bridge and a few arrangement suggestions, but the tune was basically finished before it was brought to us. Our pals Evan Oberla and Alphonso Horne wrote some epic horn parts and, hey presto, a song is born!

The falling diatonic chords, ala Unaware (Allen), and the gentle homage to classic soul (Swat) feels quintessentially Al Stone band to me, hardening back to the 2012/2013 years of invincibility and infinite potential. 

It’s available everywhere music’s streamed, and check out the video on YouTube. 

 

 

My Friend, Bear

This is my friend, Ryan “Bear” Drozd.

You know him as Allen Stone’s tour manager, the definition of infinitely capable, and in all ways a walking buddha of a gem of a human being. He is my hero.

He’s also working South By Southwest right now, aka SXSW (registered trademark). The festival’s a “big deal” and “right of passage,” and at one time genuinely was an important showcase for independent artists. Now? There’s a stage sponsored by Doritos.

So, my friend Bear is miserable.

He’s doing a good job, some might say too good of a job, and sure could use your encouragement. Follow him at @makethislouder. Consider sending him a message extolling his numerous virtues, and should you encounter him on the dystopian hellscape that is Austin’s 6th Street, buy him a slice of pizza pie and tell him it’ll all be ok, because in one short month he’ll meet up with his pal Trevor at the Los Angeles International Airport, whereupon his praises will be sung at obnoxious volume and Bloody Mary’s will be bottomless.

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Finding Out

My new band has a name! To be revealed at our very first show, at the 5 Spot in Nashville, March 23rd at 6pm.

Also on March 23rd, we’ll release two singles, a music video, and our first run of shirts, design courtesy of the brilliant Calamity Sam. 

These past couple months have been non-stop comfort zone pushing. I feel a little overexposed, and a whole lot discombobulated. In the past, I would’ve made deals with myself, how it’s ok to take a break, maybe even delay the project all together, content indefinitely to slip back into the warm bath that is Allen Stone world. 

But I won’t stop. I’ll keep pushing with every musterable ounce of hard-earned discipline, having long ago memorized every inner demon’s tired monologue. 

The old excuses are played out. Who am I now? Where am I going? With this new band, I plan on finding out.

Industry Dinosaurs

An open letter to music industry dinosaurs, inspired by what I overheard today at the Red Bicycle:

What you said:

There’s no money in the music business.

What you should have said:

The business I came up in doesn’t exist anymore, but we’re on the cusp of something new. I don’t understand it, but then again it’s not mine to understand. I’ve had my swing at the plate, and now it’s your turn. Go figure it out. You’ll be fine.

What you said:

If you’re over 25, don’t bother.

What you should have said:

Kids don’t give a shit how old you are. They never did, and no one does. In the old system, we tended to sign younger acts because, frankly, they were easier to exploit, but nowadays you can release music however and whenever you want. Do that.

What you said:

No one buys records anymore.

What you should have said:

The industry’s only as strong as the songs it represents. People will pay for something great. What they won’t pay for is bullshit. Write great songs.

Full Circle

The Allen Stone traveling circus is making a lap around the country with the Goo Goo Dolls this summer.

One of the first songs I learned on guitar was “Name,” breaking string after string until I found something approximating Johnny Rzeznik’s alternate tuning. I even “played” the song at a talent show with my “band” the Meadow Muffins, in a glorious mashup with something by Silverchair. The late 90’s were a thing, dear readers.

Would that we were all artistically awakened by the Clash and Leonard Cohen, or that our single digit selves devoured Blonde on Blonde. The Goos weren’t cool then, they aren’t cool now, but they were cool to me, and at a time when music was becoming everything.

So, the kid I was will be singing along side stage, while man I’ve become will be sharing a beer with them afterwards, appreciating that, somehow, statistically impossibly, it’s all come full circle.  



Sessions Continued...

So yes, sessions! I’m often asked how you get a foot in the door:

When I’m in Nashville, I’m out pretty much every night of the week, catching friend’s shows, buying shots for beleaguered comrades, and generally seeing and being seen in all my disheveled glory. I tour for a living. Most people assume, not inaccurately, that I’m on the road, self-soothing at a Cracker Barrel somewhere, and therefore won’t be available for 10am at Blackbird. Decisions need to be made fast, so the call goes to someone who’s guaranteed to be in town.

I advise touring musicians, when they’re off the road and fully recovered by way of binge watching episodes of the Office, to let everyone in their network know they’re home and for how long. It’s easy to get all woe-is-me we when you land back in a world you’ve been apart from for a decent stretch, but that’s the thing - you’re not actively being avoided, it’s just you’ve been gone, and the freaking country ballad won’t record itself. Life goes on, and has been doing so quite happily during the entirely of your sojourn in the catering tent. 

Even if you’re back for a week, let everyone know you’re back for a week. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten replies saying “Sweet, good to know, can you be at Sound Emporium in an hour?” Ours is a competitive business that thrives in distracted neuroses - if you don’t let people know where you’re going to be, when you’re going to be there, and for how long, there’s no way the dots will connect themselves. 

Sessions

As a working musician, you go through whatever door’s open to you, and as Allen Stone world’s been quiet lately, I find myself playing on a lot more sessions.

Sessions work a very different muscle than my typical day job(s). In Al band and Trevor land, I’m heavily invested artistically, care deeply about all involved, and am proud of the thing I’ve helped build via sweat equity and inordinate stupidity. 

In session world, I’m a guy hired to do one specific thing, and it’d be much appreciated if I bathed beforehand. The challenge, and therefore fun, lies in faking it til I make it musically, and endeavoring to find things in common with people who hold, ummm, VERY different political opinions than yours truly. Me, a bespectacled, lefty democrat, is sitting next to a bass player who is, as my mom would put it, “farther right than Genghis Khan.” An all-too-real thing here in Music City.  

Minimal faux pas so far! Just a few quick words today, more thoughts on sessions tomorrow…