Now that the hard work's done...

When I started the Naked Bourbon project 6 months ago, it was nothing more than a personal curiosity. I had saved all of my gig money from the past year and I knew that if I was ever going to start to be taken seriously I had to have a good recording. Then I read some indie music blogs that said not to invest money in recordings, and just play more shows instead, and I hesitated. $2000 was a lot of money to pour into something I wasn’t that confident in. But at the time, I only had a collection of 8 unpublished mediocre demos. A 5 song demo (4 originals and 1 cover) left over from my senior year of college, and 3 very poorly done tracks from the year before. The only thing I had to promote myself was a couple of iphone quality youtube videos, a list of cover songs on my website, and some recommendations from people who have heard me play. I had plenty of raw material, and that added to my hesitation to invest money in recording because I had to narrow down my song selection to five of my best songs to stay within the budget I could afford. Furthermore, I had no idea what I wanted them to sound like.

Being a solo artist has its benefits: I get to keep all the gig money, I have complete control over what I write and perform, and I can work as little or as much as I’d like. However, performing solo five or six times a month starts to enclose your musical identity. You get used to the way your voice and guitar playing sound and start to believe the songs you write won’t ever evolve beyond cowboy chords. I’m not the best at experimenting with all my gear at home because unless it’s all set up I’ll reach for the old acoustic before dragging my amp and pedal board up the stairs. By the time it’s all plugged in, it’s time to cook dinner or grade papers and I’ve missed my practice window.  That’s why in the weeks leading up to my first session with Jeff I thought I was going to make a record that reflected my troubadour state. If I wanted to plug in, I had to hire a band, and my musical connections in the area weren’t as plentiful as they once were. Luckily, I reconnected with my old high school friend Eric Metzgar and he said he could play on the session. I broke out my Stratocaster, rewired my pedalboard, and after an hour of experimentation I knew I was going to make a rock ‘n roll record.

It wasn’t easy. I had to get used to playing the electric guitar again. I had to think about things musically in ways that I hadn’t in years since I regularly played with a band. I wrote and rewrote the guitar solos a hundred times. I confronted my tendency to hate my voice and learned to control and arrange for it better. At times I had trouble even talking about the sounds I heard in my head to Jeff, which led to frustration with myself. There were low points between the sessions, which were sometimes months apart, when I thought of giving up. But in the end, each session made me more confident and helped me learn more about myself as a musician than I have in two years of playing solo around town.

The process of making Naked Bourbon injected some musical life back into me. The artist you hear on the record is a much more accurate depiction of my musical identity. While most of my songs are born with a single vocal and a guitar, the finished versions represent the sound and direction that I’m truly after.


The Story Behind the Song: I Didn't Use All My Love On You

I’m a lover, and I know I’m gonna find another

A few years ago I was telling a couple seasoned English teachers about my past relationships over a couple of pints of Guinness. I told them the story of one particular relationship, one that had left me shaken. Instead of the typical encouraging words you would expect, they said in near unison, “That’s the best thing that could have happened to you! You’re a writer!” and clinked their glasses with mine.

Experience makes a writer. And as taken aback by their words as I was, it makes perfect sense. I had written “I Didn’t Use All My Love On You” well before I had met them, and didn’t think much of it. It came as a pair with another song “The Only One I Need”, both written in the span of two weeks under very different amorous circumstances. The more that I’ve played it, however, the more I consider it one of my most honest songs.  Since then, I’ve written new songs that channel that same feeling and memory, but this time in different characters and settings. Experience matters.

“I Didn’t Use All my Love on You” was written in a boozy haze in my parents garage, the place I went to wrestle with a pernicious spell of heartbreak. For a couple weeks I shut myself away, listened to my favorite artists, drank beers, and picked at my dad’s old Fender acoustic all night. One evening I angrily poured out everything I could into my journal. I read it back and circled the line “I still got love left”.  From there came the line “I didn’t use all my love on you” and eventually the rest of the song. My grieving became productive.

At the time, I was living at my parents’ house, in grad school, and madly in love with a girl I had been dating for two years. I was halfway through my degree and feeling like I had everything figured out. But, as it turned out, I didn’t. Long distance either separates people or drives them closer together, and in my case, it unraveled quickly.

In the end, it all worked out. And for the better. Now, I’m getting ready to release “I Didn’t Use All My Love On You” as my first single. Those old English teachers were right were right after all.


Lyrics:

I always wanted to find someone like you

And for so long girl

I thought we would never lose

I was so sure that I did everything right

But you couldn’t keep the lies

So you cut the ties

But I still got love left

I thought you were the one but baby I ain’t done

I’m gonna hold my head up high

Don’t you cry too long when you see that you were wrong

I’m a lover and I know I’m gonna find another

Cause I didn’t use all my love on you

It’s late no dreams will come to me

So I stare at the dust around

Where your picture used to be

I’ll do my best to try to forget about

All the promises you made

when your love began to fade

But I still got love left

I thought you were the one but baby I ain’t done

I’m gonna hold my head up high

Don’t you cry too long when you see that you were wrong

I’m a lover and I know I’m gonna find another

Cause I didn’t use all my love on you

Still got love left baby I still love

But I still got love left

I thought you were the one but baby I ain’t done

I’m gonna hold my head up high

Don’t you cry too long when you see that you were wrong

I’m a lover and I know I’m gonna find another

Cause I didn’t use all my love on you


The Story Behind the Song (4 of 9): Naked Bourbon

Everyone lives for Friday in America.

Most of the time, the ideas for my songs come from free writes in my journal. It could be a recap of my day, descriptions of a feeling, or a memory. I free write until I eventually write what Hemingway called a “true sentence.” In his memoir, A Moveable Feast, he reflects on his periods of writers bloc and he would reassure himself with the idea that all a writer needs to start writing is a true sentence: a sentence that’s honest and original. “Naked Bourbon” started accidentally in a free write while I was trying to think of other ways to describe bourbon poured neat. That image stuck with me for a few weeks until I eventually wrote the first lines of the song “It’s been a long Monday/On East Main street/Of Pushing Paper/standing on seats.” A concept of escapism began to take shape and the rest of the song grew from there. 

The title and chorus of this song can be misleading out of context. I admit that a fresh pour of bourbon on the rocks or neat is a love affair worth having, but as the song took shape, “naked bourbon” became more of a symbol for escaping from your day to day.

We’ve all been there. You’re at work, perhaps sitting at your desk or in an idle truck, and suddenly it’s the absolute last place you want to be in that moment. You click from tab to tab, reread the same paragraph again and again, or mindlessly scroll through facebook or instagram, day dreaming about literally anything else. The more time that I’ve spent writing, playing, and listening to music, the more it’s on my mind throughout the rest of my day. And when I find myself asking questions about the nature of some of the more mundane aspects of my day job, I want to be elsewhere. 

 Deadcreek Flow, near Wanakena, NY at sunset. Sights like these are often the focus of my day dreams. 

Deadcreek Flow, near Wanakena, NY at sunset. Sights like these are often the focus of my day dreams. 

The heart of this song is a deep questioning about the ways we spend our time earning a living and the thought of other pursuits we would rather be doing.

Just before I wrote this song, I read Travels with Charley, Steinbeck’s famous controversial travelogue about his cross country road trip with his dog, Charley. Intent on reconnecting with his own country and seeking a cure for a period of depression, he chronicles his experiences and observations on his months long journey. For me, this book evoked my wanderlust and the hours I spent working under florescent lights after dark became stifling. Some of what I experienced in my day to day at the time did not exactly mesh with my own romantic imagination. 

Weekends and the summer are when I get to tend to my true sources for happiness, whether its traveling, playing or writing music, wandering around in the woods, spending time with family, or staying up late with a glass of bourbon and my favorite records. 

 

Lyrics:

It’s been Long Monday on East Main Street

Of Pushing Paper standing on seats

The sun that shines through these broken blinds

Shines right on my day-dreaming eyes

 

I used to want the world like Steinbeck in his wheeled shack

Now I never read books that ain’t stapled stacks

Oh how I’d kill right now to move past this disaster

And get to my naked bourbon a little faster

 

Pour it slow, pour it true 

Look me in the eye

You know the way I like to drink

Keep the lights low and the music on

Keep the lights low and the music on 

 

Everyone lives for Friday in America

We complain we’re tired the moment we wake up

So I don’t spend my time sippin’ any old flight

I wait for my naked bourbon on Friday nights

 

Pour it slow, pour it true 

Look me in the eye

You know the way I like to drink

Keep the lights low and the music on

Keep the lights low and the music on

 

Baby I love how you stare at me through the glass

The sparkle on the ice glows

Tomorrow we don’t have anywhere else to go 

So I’m gonna hold you till sunrise in front of this fire light

 

Pour it slow, pour it true 

Look me in the eye

You know the way I like to drink

Keep the lights low and the music on

Keep the lights low and the music on

 

 

The Story Behind the Song (3 of 9): Blankets

I’m not ready to face the cold out there.
 These were the windowpanes that were frosted over one cold night I couldn't sleep. 

These were the windowpanes that were frosted over one cold night I couldn't sleep. 

Disclaimer: the process of writing this song was not a happy one, however cathartic. That's the the thing about songwriting: sometimes you're confronted with some hard emotions that you're not sharing with anyone else. You push them into the characters that you create and come out on the other side. This song captures some particular feelings I had at a very particular time in my life. 

If you've ever had the feeling that cacophony is hitting you from all sides, pounding your ears until the your ear drums bleed, so much so that you can't  focus on anything except for the smallest task in front of you, that was what drove this song. I'm not an anxious person by any means. Those who have known me remember me as kind of a wallflower as a teenager because I found more comfort in my guitar or Jimi Hendrix riffs than I did in most social situations. College moved me through that slowly but surely, and now I look back at laugh about how much of an awkward kid I was. This song is about anxiety, but it's an anxiety caused by near debilitating stress.

I wrote this song during a particularly difficult time at school. My school is experiencing a transition that no other school in the country has experienced before. It's a demanding work environment. The kids require all of your attention all of the time. There are endless meetings and paperwork to be filled out, events after school, pressure to prove to others that you're worth keeping employed, lesson plans that go completely awry. You watch yourself and others fail despite tiresome work. It's not the place for anyone who expects instant or even occasional gratification. To quote a very wise friend, every day you're given a set of matches and you're expected to light fire, but it's raining. You're matches get wet. The wood's wet.  But every day you get a new set of matches." I like what I do because it makes me feel like I'm doing some good for the world, but some days, well, they're some days. 

Unlike my last two songs that I've written about here, there's no great story behind it or a hopeful social justice message. It's a straight up protest song about this particular feeling of walls closing in on me from all sides. 

It was late November when I wrote it. The days are dark and starting to get cold and windy. My weeks were so over scheduled that I hated every blue event on my google calendar with a passion. The view of the ceiling from the couch invited my stare and when I couldn't sleep I sat up and looked out our front windows. I was growing bitter about some of the non-teaching aspects of my job, some decisions I had to make. Through all of that I wished from time to time that my job didn't require as much active thinking. I couldn't sleep even though I was exhausted, taking melatonin, feeling sleepy then feeling the sleepiness dissipate, passing the hours in the blue light of my phone on facebook, instagram, or browsing camping and hiking gear.  

My only respite was the five minutes or so I spent with my girlfriend after our alarms go off (sometimes mine for the third time) at 5:30 in the morning where we just lay in bed next to each other. That's it. Lay there, eyes open or not, legs or feet touching ever so slightly, before begrudgingly getting up to start the coffee and get on with my day.

Lyrics: 

The window panes frost over like the windshield of a corvette

But this old house can keep out the cold as long as the insulation holds

Your hand reaches for me under the sheets

My melatonin didn’t work last night so I watch my feed repeat

 

The wind blows stronger every day there’s waves out on the lake

I’m getting tired of making plans and feeling like I need to escape

This storm won’t last forever and they’ll be plenty more for us to weather

Don’t get up baby, we ain’t leaving today

 

Keep the blankets on I’m not ready to face the cold out there

Help me tell the road to wait

Leave that trail of clothes on the floor

They’ll still be there when the sun

Chases shadows off our dusty ceiling fan

Keep the blankets on me

Oh keep’em on me

Cause I ain’t going anywhere

 

All these expectations pile up like snow on the sidewalk

Sometimes I think that I’d prefer to trade my tie for a shovel

I move my hand down your back pretending there’s no information to track

Throw out my phone baby they can miss me for a day

 

Keep the blankets on I’m not ready to face the cold out there

Help me tell the road to wait

Leave that trail of clothes on the floor

They’ll still be there when the sun

Chases shadows off our dusty ceiling fan

Keep the blankets on me

Oh keep’em on me

Cause I ain’t going anywhere

 

The Story Behind the Song (2 of 9): Picture of an Indian

How long did it take you to finally feel like a man?

When you wake up one morning, reach for your guitar and a pencil, and six verses and a chord progression flow out of you, you might be on to something. It's what every writer hopes for: an uninterrupted pouring of emotion that shapes itself into a song without much toil. No song worth singing goes unrevised, but having a strong first draft certainly helps the process. 

 

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When I wrote the first draft of Picture of an Indian last January, it had been a very long time since I actually looked at this picture--and I mean actually looked at it. But that winter morning, it's what I woke up thinking about. Maybe I had a dream about it or about my grandfather, maybe not. The reasons why you write songs at particular times is part of the mystery of writing that I don't think I'll ever fully understand. 

I slumped off to my desk, still a little groggy and spilling my coffee and wrote the line "there's a picture of an indian wearing a suit and tie". I took another sip and went on describing the picture. That messy free write unlocked conversations I had with my grandfather I hadn't thought about in years. 

Sergeant Keith Marshall John Reitz served two tours in Vietnam from 1965 to 1968. He was a mechanic. 1 of 10 children, he grew up dirt poor in the city of Rochester on Genesee Street. After receiving a letter stating that the draft would reopen, and his number was next on the list, he decided to enlist so he would have his choice of assignment. He died in 2003. I was twelve years old. 

At his funeral, I remember a newspaper clipping from Stars and Stripes, the US Army paper. The title of the article was A Musical GI. It described how my grandfather, a troubadour ever since he could play the guitar, was a popular entertainer and morale booster. He taught me many of my first guitar chords. By the time he was 24, he had done two tours in Vietnam and had two young children at home. As I grew older in the years since his death, I learned that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; the ghosts from the war haunted him his whole life. He was spit on by protesters when he got off the plane, and the things he had seen and done weighed heavy on him. It was an unpopular war, even for the soldiers who fought it. He ceremoniously burned his uniform out of anger towards the actions of those he fought for at home and the shame he felt that so many had died for an unfinished questionable cause.

My grandma tells a story about a motor cycle gang called "The Rebels" that used to hang around a bar called the Blue and White my grandfather used to sing in regularly. They were a group of hard sons-of-bitches that were traveling tree surgeons. They worked, drank, drank some more, and carried their debauchery on to the next place.  The story goes that one day, the Rebels decided he was so good that he should be a famous country singer. And if it was the last thing they did, they were going to get him a record deal in Nashville. After feeding him many drinks, they convinced him to get in the car and took off for the south. They made it as far as Kentucky before getting arrested and my grandfather had to hitch-hike home to my bewildered grandmother who was still waiting for him to take her to a movie. When she told me this story, it was too good not to write into a song.

Since college I've often compared myself to my grandfather. Compared to him, I haven't had that much to worry about. My job in life has been "do well in school", "get a good job", "be a kind, compassionate person", and "do what makes you happy." His was "stay alive", "get home", "provide for your wife and kids", and "figure out how to live a normal life again." To me it seems like he had to grow up a hell of a lot faster than me. I don't understand sacrifice like he did or my grandmother does. Their youth was full of trial and tribulation, horror, worry, and hard work. It took him a long time to recover from what he experienced and no one in my family is sure that he every completely did.

Before I became a teacher, my life consisted of reading books, playing the guitar, and drinking too much beer largely on my parents' dime. Even in my fourth year of teaching, I don't know if I feel like a man yet. At times I feel like I'm a grad student with a bigger budget and dog. Will it all change after I'm married with kids? Is that the mark of manliness? 

Perspective is a funny thing. I'll never know the true answer, but he may have been wondering the same thing about himself, whether its if he'll ever reconcile with Vietnam or if he he'd ever be as much of a man as his father or grandfather. It's part of coming of age I guess.

So that's the song: a tribute to an admired grandparent and a young man's meditation on becoming a man himself. 

Lyrics: 

There’s a picture of an Indian wearing a suit and tie

He had a high and tight like an army man and a sparkle in his eye

He got tired of kicking beer cans on the streets of the 585

Traded eight years to Uncle Sam to fix trucks in Vietnam

 

There’s a picture of an Indian with a guitar on his back

He serenaded soldiers when they were taking flak

He was featured in Stars and Stripes and awarded some medals

But the only prize that he brought home was a suitcase full of devils

 

What do I know about sacrifice? About Hard times?

You were twenty years old and didn’t know if you’d get home

How long did it take you to finally feel like a man?

 

There’s a story about an Indian getting drunk on whiskey

One day a gang of hardened men carried him off to Dixie

Nashville was where they would make him a star

But the only stages they put him on were the spinning stools of bars

 

What do I know about sacrifice? About Hard times?

You were twenty six years old when your wife said don't come home

How long did it take you to finally feel like a man?

 

All the stories they told me

At the kitchen table or fireside seat

I’m as old as you were then

And what have I done? Oh what have I done?

 

There’s a picture of an Indian wearing a suit and tie

He’s leaning on a pool table in the legion hall

A gentle smile brings you to the sparkle in his eye

Despite everything that he’d seen he never let it die

 

What do I know about sacrifice? About Hard times?

You were twenty years old and didn’t know if you’d get home

How long did it take you to finally feel like a man?

 

 

 

The Story Behind the Song (1 of 9): Flower City

Nothing’s wrong with the street lights
They all work just fine
But I ain’t always satisfied

I wrote "Flower City" two years after I returned to Rochester from Nashville. I had moved down there to be a full time musician and part time teacher with Teach for America, but it didn't quite work out that way. I resigned and moved back home after 6 months, was unemployed for a while and then started grad school at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester. 

Then I taught 9th grade English for two years at East High School.

I have reacquainted myself  with Rochester twice in my 27 years of life. The first time was my freshman year of college. Being from Henrietta, I hadn't spent much time in the city of Rochester. The University showed me a new side of my hometown: a privileged, cosmopolitain, liberal, and educated Rochester. I had friends from all over the country who got to know their new home through me and the of-the-beaten-path places  (to college kids without a car) I took them to like Mendon Ponds Park. I was the local expert. I felt proud of what my little city offered. It wasn't a great city, but it was my city. 

The second time was my first year teaching at East High School. The kids I taught lived a completely different experience from how I grew up. My friends from suburban Texas, Massachusetts, and Minnesota never saw this side of town. Most of my students are from the North side of the city-- the "14621" or the "Fatal Crescent". They're immigrants and refugees who have already seen more hardship at 14 than I have in my entire life. They live near dilapidated, boarded up houses, abandoned factories, walk by used needles on the street, and over soil contaminated by industrial run off. They're far from the glowing aisles of perfect produce at Wegmans and the hipsters drinking their kombucha, single origin coffee, and craft beerThe longer I teach at East and the more I learn about how parts of Rochester got to be that way, the less proud I am of my hometown. I get angry at the inequity and how oblivious many people in Monroe County are to it. Privilege is being able to drive into the city, enjoy it at your leisure, complain about its struggles, and escape back home.

During my first summer as a teacher I walked the Genesee River Trail from Genesee Valley Park to Main Street. The path brings you through the University of Rochester River Campus, past the Dinosaur BBQ and through downtown to the old Sibley Building. On your right is the power and glory of the University: beautiful, manicured green spaces, ivy covered buildings, and brand new dorms. On your left is the skeleton of industry. Old factories and warehouses with caving roofs and neglected 19th ward homes that were long ago split into multifamily apartments. You pass historical signs along the way that describe a once great and bustling boomtown. Rochester has its own history walk, a faded blue line that guides you through the original heart of the city. The signs show blueprints and diagrams of the old grain warehouses and flour mills, and if they still exist, they're idle or being transformed into luxury lofts. The Kodak tower sits largely empty and start ups are moving in and parts of town are being "reclaimed" like the St. Paul Quarter. 

For most of my life I expected to call Rochester home. It's where my family is, the native culture I grew up knowing, the place I wanted to buy a house and raise kids. It's a fine place to live your life comfortably if you're lucky enough to be able to. I In some ways I feel a responsibility to stay and to give a damn. Yet, I feel enticed by what the rest of the country and the world offers. For now, anyway, I choose to live here.

So, that's this song: the narrator is grappling with the decision to stay or go, the privilege and entitlement of others and his own, the effects of a changing economy, and hoping the future is a little more promising.

Lyrics: 

It’s a rust belt town, don’t pretend

It started to slow down, before my momma was 10

I tried moving away but didn’t stay

I could stake a claim, or pack all my bags today

Living here young wasn’t the plan

But I wanted to raise kids next to mom and dad

Now that I’m here I’ve made my choice

Not to sit back and criticize but have a voice

Everyday I get older in Flower City

A little town against the times

Nothing’s wrong with the street lights

They all work just fine

But I ain’t always satisfied

There’s problems here, some you can see

Rusty old buildings rotting next to the Genesee

The rest aren’t hidden, they’re in sight

All the holes created by all of that white flight

It won’t ever be like it was before

Nostalgia won’t find you what you’ve been looking for

If you change your mind, see what shines

Maybe you'll start to see some wilted flowers climb

Everyday I get older in Flower City

A little town against the times

Nothing’s wrong with the street lights

They all work just fine

But I ain’t always satisfied

But I could be satisfied...

 

Session 1 is done, now the real work begins...

My first recording session went better than I ever could have hoped. Ten thousand thank yous to Eric Metzgar, Scott Kwiatek, and Jeff Gilhart for making this possible. Thank you to all those who have contributed to the cause. What started as an EP is quickly turning into an album.

I had my first meeting with Jeff, the engineer, in early March and set the June 29th session date in early May. At the time, June 29th seemed far off and in the mean time I had to finish the school year strong and keep pace with my busy gig schedule to raise the money I needed for the project. The next thing I knew, I was in New York visiting my sister with an impending session coming up in 4 days that I felt very unprepared for. I had been building this session up in my head for months and I felt the stakes were high. Eric Metzgar, the incredible drummer on the record, is getting ready to move to New York in August and the bass player who he recommended, Scott Kwiatek, was only available for one rehearsal before the session. I sent him some really shitty demos the week before and wrote up charts for him, but the fact that we would only have one rehearsal together as a band before the session loomed large. I felt like I had to get as much done as possible in that 5 hour session to get the most out of my money and my time. 

I ended up with seven high quality rough tracks. It was the smoothest recording session I've ever been a part of. Eric, Scott, and I had a musical rapport that is rare to come by and Jeff made us feel so comfortable that it felt like we were a high school band jamming in the garage with the tape running. We made adjustments and changes to the arrangements on the fly and powered through seven songs with no more than three takes on each. They each made clutch contributions to each track. It was incredible. By the time we got to 4 pm, we had two tracks left to hit my ambitious goal of seven and hadn't taken a break at all. We finished our third take of "I Didn't Use all My Love on You" at 4:57 pm and wrapped it up feeling like we had just run a marathon. I had a two hour gig to play that night and my hands hurt so much by 10 pm that I could barely finish my set. I woke up the next morning to the rough mixes in my inbox.

Initial impressions

At this point, I've listened to all the tracks about 10 times each. Here are my initial thoughts for each: 

  • Naked Bourbon. The clear cut winner. This take might even make the final cut because it was that good. It's very raw, gritty, and powerful. I might even keep the scratch vocal. 
  • I Didn't Use All My Love On You. A surprising addition that came out very well. It captures my blues background that I've ventured away from but still informs a lot of my writing. 
  • Blankets. A strong take, but I'm not loving the guitar sound. Jeff had me using a DI and an electronic pedal board. The guitar doesn't sound like me at all. However, it came out dark and stormy, which captures the main character's angst. Add a kickass solo and my tone, and we have a winner.
  • Picture of an Indian. A good start, but still needs refining. Once more layers are added the song will fill out more. It's a gentle sounding acoustic ballad and I really like the way Scott plays the upright bass. My scratch vocals suck, but I was mostly concerned with carrying the finger pattern through the whole song. I'm excited to hear how it comes together.
  • Life on Wheels. A good start again, but it  came out just left of center. It's a little Mumford sons sounding in the beginning but fills out and builds momentum towards the end. I think layers are definitely going to help shape the sound more, especially with the addition of a fiddle and slide guitar. 
  • Flower City. The way this came out surprised me. It was the second to last song that we did that day and maybe I was getting tired. When I listened to it the next morning I thought I sounded like an angry teenager in a punk band (lol!). And then I get hints of funeral for a friend-esque instrumental sections. After further review, the openness of the arrangement is growing on me, but I'm not convinced yet. My gut tells me it's too fast.
  • Long After Midnight. This last minute addition shines. I wrote this song two weeks before the session, a self deprecating story about a man trying to drink away heartbreak. It's simplicity made it easy to arrange and perform quickly. It was a bit of a risk but it came out sounding like classic high powered rock 'n roll. It has single potential. 

 What's Next: 

These tracks are going to marinate for a couple of weeks before I get back in the studio for my first overdubbing session. I have some camping trips planned and upcoming gigs to prepare for and between all that I know I have to redo most of the vocal tracks, write and overdub some guitar solos, bring in my friend Chelsea to play fiddle and Sara to lay down some harmonies. Maybe even rearrange and record Flower City. Writing is never done, but this is the most exciting part. 

 

 Eric Metzgar testing out some grooves. 

Eric Metzgar testing out some grooves. 

 Scott getting comfortable with his jazz bass.

Scott getting comfortable with his jazz bass.

Making Decisions is hard...

Well, I'm nearly funded for this project. I've raised $1500 by saving my gig money over the past year or so. With a few more July gigs on deck, I'm going to hit my goal of $2000 to put into the record! 

Recording isn't cheap. I was lucky to find Jeff Gillhart, the engineer recording me. He is a very well credentialed engineer with a lot of experience and the best news is that he very reasonably priced: $50 an hour for session time and $200 for his mixing fee. I have enough money to pay a band, book two follow up overdubbing sessions, and still have some money left over. Tentatively, I'm hoping to finish the recording process by August 1st with a release date of October 20th. We'll see how it all plays out...

How to spend my money isn't the difficulty the title of this posts suggests... it's deciding what songs to put on the record. Don't get me wrong, it's a good problem to have. This year has been my most prolific year as a writer. I'm writing songs way faster than I can record any of them. They keep getting better, so I keep holding out for one that'll come in the next two weeks that's the best of them all. Idealistic, maybe, but you never know. 

Here is the current list of songs that will likely make the cut:  

  • Picture of an Indian 
  • Blankets
  • Naked Bourbon
  • Flower City
  • Life on Wheels
  • This Won't be the Last Song

^ I wrote that last one last week. It's a good.  Good enough to make the cut if I can swing it. I can probably get it on there as an acoustic guitar/vocal track only. I'm going to debut it this Friday at the Skylark Lounge. 

So these are the songs I think best show case my writing, are marketable, catchy, and wholesome enough to represent me. I have many other good choices: Monroe County, Ibuprofen, Didn't Use All my Love on You, Pair of Queens...so hard to decide! I've based a lot of this decision on how they are received at gigs, and so far these have been popular. It's possible my mind might change in the next two weeks, but I made the lead sheets yesterday... As far as production goes... you'll just have to wait and see. 

For those who receive my newsletter, I offered a pre-release copy of the CD and a personal invitation to a barbecue prepared by yours truly for anyone who donates $20 or more to production costs. Contact me through my contact page, facebook, or instagram for more information! 

The Road to an EP

The last EP I put out was over 5 years ago. I had just graduated from the University of Rochester and had committed to a two year teaching stint in Nashville, TN with Teach for America. At the time, I thought I could move to Nashville, teach on the side, and dive in to the city's music scene. I had to have something presentable when I got down there. "Introducing Chris Bethmann" was the result; a five track demo that featured some of my earliest songs. I've learned a lot since then and my writing style has evolved.

 5 years later, I'm still a teacher, but this time in Rochester, my little hometown in Western, NY. It's a classic rust-belt, great lakes town. Much more mid-west than northeast. Industrial. Segregated. The school I work in is trying to make a comeback.

I ended up resigning from TFA after 6 months in Nashville. After I moved home, I was unemployed and aimless. I started grad school and didn't play a gig at all for two years. I wrote a few songs, but they weren't anything I was proud of. My Nashville experience taught me that I liked country music more than I thought I did. On Spotify I followed the bread crumbs from artists like Zac Brown and Eric Church to Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. Then I was hooked.

Suffice to say, the songs on this EP reflect my experiences reacquainting myself with my hometown, navigating a new career in a challenging environment, and immersing myself in a new style of music and lyric writing. 

This series of posts is meant to chronicle the journey to my EP release, which I hope to complete by the end of this summer. I'll write about the recording process, tell stories behind lyrics, deliberate on the title track and which songs to release as singles. In this way, I hope to bring you, readers, into the creative process. 

Enjoy! Never stop thinking.