And it goes on and on…The Art of Scott Avett

Six years ago I was waking up in Charlotte wishing I could relive the previous night.  I, along with a small group of friends and strangers, were treated to an evening of storytelling and art by Scott Avett.  While Avett is best known for his songwriting and musical prowess as co-frontman of The Avett Brothers, he also wears other creative hats.  That evening, donned in all black, Avett–proud, yet introspective–opened up about his journey as a visual artist.  As we sat, surrounded by what felt like a lifetime of his paintings, charcoal sketches, and linolium prints, we listened and watched intently as he spoke.  The event–The Paintings of Scott Avett: Exploring Story and Spirituality–was  about more than gaining a glimpse into the world of someone we admired.  It was about raising awareness for the Educational Center in Charlotte.  It was about personal expression and the spiritual journey that we are all on, regardless of if we recognize it or not.  It was about community.

Since that evening, Scott has participated in similar, intimate events–whether it be to discuss his music, visual art or both.  These events are designed to keep people close, to stir emotions in a relatively small space.  While they appear exclusive, that is not the driving force or goal.  The ripple effect that occurs after such events–the spreading, sharing and intermingling of ideas–is akin to the root system in a forest.  It is sustaining and strong.  It connects and grounds us.  While most of Avett’s fans will never experience him in this type of forum, he has begun to share his artistic process with those who are interested.  Through social media, Avett reveals the evolution of a painting or print, the development of color, the depths of shadow, and the complexities of the world around him.  His most recent progression–like many of his paintings–is centered on his family and the interaction and energy of generations.

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source: @avettar instagram

In the spirit of community, connectedness and inclusivity, here is the transcript from that magical evening six years ago (2/26/2012).  While the feelings evoked in the moment can not be reproduced by these words, perhaps the stories told will push that ripple a bit further beyond its current limits.  Enjoy…

Shelia Enis:  The center is over one hundred and sixty years old and it all began when someone left a baby on the doorstep of at St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis.  The woman of the church took the baby in, so the center started as an orphanage and was called The Church Association for the Relief of Orphans and Destitute Persons.  That was in January of 1843.  The first year they admitted three more children and the budget for that year was $37.75.  So obviously the church association was concerned with the physical and mental well being of the children.  They also became concerned about their spiritual lives and religious education.  The entire history is very fascinating.  What came out of this is a research center and spiritual education that has been nationally acclaimed a pioneer in research of religion education, particularly in the methodology called miutic, which is the Greek word for midwife and it means as a teacher or facilitator.  You are not the authority.  You simply help another person work what that person may already know.  The thing that we do is to create curriculum resources and events and retreats to enrich people’s spiritual journey.  We deal with life questions that have no answers.  The goal, the vision and mission behind the center is that we all evolve spiritually and psychologically and socially and that we become conscious along the way.

Tilly Tice (President of Board of Directors of the Educational Center):  Who would have thought that two and a half years ago when I got a call from Shelia Enis saying we really need to move The Educational Center to Charlotte, North Carolina instead of St. Louis because the crux of the support for the center is really in the Carolinas, particularly in Charlotte.  I never would have thought that an event like tonight would come to be.  It is just incredible to me that this event was actually bestowed upon us by the insight of Shelia and Tom.  Of course I knew about Scott Avett.  I knew about his music, but that Scott himself might make himself available and his remarkable artwork as a catalyst for a benefit for the Educational Center was never even in a seed in the pod of possibilities that I saw.  And had it not been for Shelia and the fact that she had the realization that we need to move from St. Louis to Charlotte.  Had she not been married to Tom Schultz, who had become such a wonderful supporter of the Educational Center.  Were it not for the fact that Tom happened to be owner of a gallery empathinc and met Scott Avett, none of us would be here tonight.  Do I believe in synchronicity?   Absolutely, without a doubt.  You can bet I do and Tom and Shelia recognized it.  The better they got to know Scott, the more deeply convinced they were that, ‘Hey this is a fella who is very much about the same kinds of things the Educational Center is about.  Here is someone else who is committed to moving beneath the layers of human stories, of personal history and experiences to discover deeper levels of spiritual reality and knowing.’  On behalf of the board of the Educational Center I express my warmest gratitude to Tom and Shelia, for the genesis of this evening and for all of the energy, time, and effort that has gone into the development of the evening.  They called together one of the best planning teams that you could imagine.  (Multiple thank yous).  Last and most important, most deeply appreciated…the man himself Scott Avett.  Scott recognized also as Tom and Shelia talked to him about the educational center and the work we do, that we had much in common.  Our work using varying arrow in all sorts of different forms, is also Scott like your work, connecting to the spirit lying in the center of all of us.  You made a stupendous commitment to come to us and be the center of this benefit.  How do we say thank you when the words “thank you” will never be adequate?  Your gift to us is of yourself and your sacred artistic expression is beyond mere words.

Tom Schultz:  I am glad you all could come over tonight.  I met Scott in 2003 when he wandered into my studio and asked if he could hang a few paintings up.  So, I knew that he had a little band, which nothing much has changed if you were able to convince yourself that the Grammy award stage was a bar and Bob Dylan was your bartender.  I could go there.  I want to talk a little bit about these paintings.  I’ve spent a lot of time with these paintings.  I’ll tell you a story.  I have a dog, Olive, and I walk Olive every night at 10 o’clock.  I meet people.  Some of you here have met Olive.  We are on the lookout for unusual things.  Last Fall we were walking in Elizabeth, with the skyline of Charlotte visible to us and Olive stopped.  I’ve learned to stop when Olive stops and see what she’s looking at.  Well there was a two-point buck and a doe that were walking across the asphalt, and disappeared into someone’s yard.  I thought that wildness in this sophisticated urban area was a juxtaposition.  It was just a marvel for me.  So, let me tell you about these paintings.  When you see the color under the arm that is painted so deftly, you are dealing with something wild that is also sophisticated.  When you see one brush stroke that defines an entire toe so clearly and succinctly, you are looking at something wild that is also sophisticated.  I often compare Scott’s work to writers like early John Steinbeck. Sometimes I think that there’s an air of grit to the reality that he portrays.  There is a bit of wildness in sophistication.  I hope you recognize that and after looking at these paintings, accept Scott’s invitation to you to find the wildness in you that’s wrapped up in your sophistication.  My son Isaac, who is also a painters, tells me that when I like someone’s art work I say, “Yeah they can paint.”  But when I really love someone’s art work I say, “That make me WANT to paint.”  So Scott I am going to ask you to wrap this up man, because I want to go paint.  Ladies and gentlemen, Scott Avett.

Scott Avett:  First of all let me say thank you to Tilly and the Educational Center for having me and allowing me to do this.  For reading the mission statement with a mission of the EC and the importance and the power that they imply and put on story as a tool for spiritual enlightenment and seeking, seems right in line with what I do, and what my brother and our brothers do.  I’d also like to say thank you to Shelia and Tom, with all of my heart, and the committee called Team Avett.  Some of the other Team Avett that we have with our band, well I don’t want you all to get into anything (laughter)…Thank you so much for making this happen.

When I think about this location here, Charlotte, South Charlotte in particular, I think about this story every time.  This year, different from the talk that Shelia and Tom saw me do, I told myself, “You know I am not going to write anything. I’m not going to think about anything.  I’m not going to plan anything.”  And so for the past four months I kept this discipline of being really lazy (laughs) and not planning anything.  And so, here’s my lead-off story.  I just figured that the story is so important.  Any lesson and anything that is important within the story, it’s implied as the Educational Center implies as well.  And it says it directly that we are, and I am not really any kind of authority, and I can’t even pretend to be.  I have been butting my head against the wall a lot of my life trying to be an authority of certain things and every year that goes by I realize how ridiculous that is.  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like 10 years from now.

But, being in South Charlotte makes me think about meeting these girls in high school at the beach.  And exchanging numbers with them – me and some friends of mine from Concord – and coming home from the beach and preparing to come to Charlotte with this friend of mine to meet these girls and take them on, not a date, but an outing because it was during the day.  Now, coming from Cabarrus County, we were soccer players and we’d come to South Charlotte to play soccer tournaments and soccer matches, and we were destroyed every time.  I mean, on and on, from when I was a little kid playing rec to high school and getting beat like 19-1, 14-2 (points).  There’s one of them back there right now.  That was my interaction and dealings with South Charlotte, other than it being this mansion on a hill place.  I remember going through there seeing houses that I thought, “Nobody knows the people who live in those houses.  Nobody does.”   I don’t know if people do live in those houses.  Do they ever come out and the people who do come out, do they live in those houses?  They seemed so far away from the road literally and also metaphorically.  So anyway, that was my experience with South Charlotte.  So in preparation to go pick these girls up that we met at the beach on an outing, I decided, “Well, soccer is popular in South Charlotte.”  There are really good soccer players there, so I’m thinking, I’ll wear a World Cup t-shirt. (laughs)  You know the World Cup t-shirt with the soccer ball with the planet on it.  I thought, “Oh this is good, this is good.”  So, I’m a shoe guy so I am thinking, “What shoes should I wear?”  Well I had these blue puma indoor soccer shoes, and they are suede.  I realized today just thinking about this “I had blue suede shoes!”  (laughs)  So to complete the look I go to the drawer and get my Umbros–my blue Umbros.  So I’ve got my sort of World Cup America look going on.  And anyone who knows what Umbros are, they are like wearing boxers in public.  It’s like this new fad where some people wear pajamas in public, and I’m like, “Uh, it’s kind of crazy!”  So anyway, we hand-picked a friend of ours who had a convertible because we thought that would be pretty cool.  So it was me and this farmer friend of mine and a guy we thought was kind of uptown from Concord, who lived on Union Street so he was more city-oriented.  We went up and met these girls and I mean, I am sure during the day I was like, “This is going okay.  That look that they gave me when I walked through the door wasn’t that bad.”  Looking back on it, they were nice.  They went out with us and probably chose a place where they wouldn’t see any of their friends.  I remember thinking that I didn’t really hear back from them so I guess it didn’t really go so well.  But now looking back I just appreciate their sympathy (laughs).

But as I thought about that story, it led me on to think about the differences between going up in Charlotte and growing up in Cabarrus County.  I was thinking about the perspective I had and the forced need to use my creativity.  Being in the woods for long hours with nobody else, and fashioning toys and guns out of branches…My point is that being around less people, other than family –my brother, sister, mom and dad– we didn’t have any neighbors at the time.  It got me thinking about the things that we did and the things that were forming us and the things that were growing meaning in our lives–the experiences that we had, with the push and the pull and the conflicts that we encountered.  And it made me think about this story that happened maybe a year before I came here dressed as a soccer player for a day (laughs).  I thought about the trouble that I could get into in Cabarrus County and the space that you had and the opportunities that you had to really wreck some shop really.  I remember a friend of mine coming to me and saying (he was an older friend…I was a freshman and he was a senior).  His name was Ryan.  Ryan had a girlfriend named Katrina.  He said, “We need to steal Katrina Avenue, the sign.  It is going to look good for me to have this sign.”  I was 14 years old and so I said, “That sounds like a great idea.”  You aren’t a burglar if you are stealing from the government, right?  There was just something about it that felt okay.  (laughs).  So we employed another friend of ours, another Scott, who was also a 17 year old.  We agreed that Friday night we would go steal Katrina Avenue.  So we went out Friday night.  We had all of this open space and much less people.  We started the night early to get Katrina Avenue, but it was very difficult and we didn’t have the right tools so we gave up on it.  But we decided we would just carry on the rest of the night and we will steal some other signs.  I mean this is 14 years old, in a car by myself with these guys just looking for trouble.  So, we agreed that Scott and Scott would be dropped off at a stop sign at a golf course, and that we will steal the stop sign since we can’t get the street sign.  We would just push it down and take the stop sign.  So, we agreed that the little Honda that Ryan was driving would drive around the neighborhood and head back once we had the stop sign, and we would get in.  I remember him driving away and it was really moonlit out there and as the car was just scooting off, the sign comes down and we were there with our tools and there was just something thrilling about taking this sign down in this neighborhood, this golf course neighborhood.  You know we’re getting one for the team.  So, Scott and I start working on this sign.  We pushed the sign down and we’re working around this with our ratchet.  We’ve got a ratchet and adjustable screw drivers and wrenches just in case.  Ryan’s gone, he’s going to be gone for a couple of minutes.  I heard some of this rustling around at the ranch house across the street and I knew the family that lived over there somewhere.  But we’re still working.  It got kind of quiet and we heard just a huge “KABOOM!”  I was like, “What is that?!”  That was a car backfiring.  Somebody’s over there and they cranked their car and it backfired.  I actually had a buddy that had a Jeep and we would drive around Concord and downshift so it would backfire and scare people.  So, I am instantly thinking that the car backfired because that’s something we do in Cabarrus County.  (laughs)  With that we both decided that we were going to head Ryan off at the path and we are going to go ahead and get out of here.  So we go out in search of the car and here comes Ryan in the little Honda and hop in.  And I am the youngest so I have to get in the hatchback (scrunches his body into a ball), because it’s a two-door.  Well we go around and end up at a dead end, and we have to go back to where we heard the car backfire.  We had to drive back by there and we were kind of scared because we knew someone was out there. So we all decided that we were going to cruise by there and everybody agreed that we were going to drive slow, cruise by and we didn’t see any sign, we would be good.  They probably called the police so we were going home.  This was really dumb so let’s just go home.  So we are cruising along and I was crunched up in the back looking through this foggy window and as I look I see this guy behind a chain linked fence.  I just see someone pacing then all of a sudden there was glass breaking and the KABOOM again, and it was like, “Pa-ching-ching!” (high pitched noise of a ricocheting bullet).  And a bullet goes through the front door panel of the car and through the center console of the car and through the laces of the Converse All-Stars that Scott’s wearing.  And it pops the laces.  It doesn’t go through his foot, just through his shoe.  Of course everyone in the car, Scott and I broke out in a giggle because we were terrified.  We were hysterical.  Ryan drops his head and just drove.  Of course the police were on their way and of course the man who had shot at us had called the police as well so there was a strange thing going on there. So we get taken in and we get arrested.   I am 14 years old so the police officer obviously knows that I am going to tell.  (laughs) And I did tell the whole story and I sold them all out.  To think that that glass in the room was just a mirror and everyone else in the room watching and thinking “Just tell them we weren’t there.”  I spent 4 or 5 hours at the police department and at the end my dad comes and picks me up.  My dad talks to the police a little bit and we walk out.  They are like “Okay, goodnight, we will see you at court.”  As he picks me up the first thing he says is “I need to go to the grocery store.  I need some bread. Mom needs some bread.”  I said, “Ok.”  He said, “I think I want some gum too.”  I said (laugh), “Ok.”  So we are on the way to the grocery store and I said, “Dad I guess I’m really, really in trouble.”  He said, “Son, I think we are going to lower your curfew a little bit and you are going to be in all sorts of trouble with the judicial system so there’s no point in grounding you.  What am I going to do?  I’m not going to whoop you.  You are terrified right now, as you should be.  You are going to make these mistakes, and I just don’t want you to get killed along the way.  You’re going to get hurt and I don’t want you to get hurt beyond repair.”  How lucky was I to have gone through that.  I mean it was just a mindless thing to do but at 14, especially 14 for a boy, mindlessness is like growing hair I guess.  It’s something that we have a lot of or are starting to have a lot of.  So I ended up having 24 hours of community service, and I marked it as an experience that changed my life.  I never vandalized and I never went on a vandalizing outing again, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  It was a ridiculous thing to do.  But, I think at that moment, not just my dad’s wisdom or my dad’s experience, that was the only thing that showed me that I should listen to it.

What happened next over the years, at 15 my relationship with me and my dad grew closer and stronger in his invitation to work with him on the bridges he was building.  My dad was a welder.  He is still a welder, but is now retired from it.  He invited me at 15 years old to come work with him as a laborer on the bridge, which I don’t’ think I wanted to do but I felt like I needed to or I would be a failure if I didn’t step up to the challenge. So it was not for anything that he had done.  This was just a feeling from within.  So I went work with him on the first job on Independence Blvd.  For some reason, that story that I just told led to this and two incidences on the bridge.  The first day I went to work with my dad I remember hammering to beat down this piece of metal to get it prepared to weld, and I remember this is the first job I was ordered to do and I am swinging this thing and I let that thing rip right out of my hand.  I just see this hammer headed down to Independence Blvd and cars just flying back and forth and it lands right there at the white line.  Cars are still just going back and forth.  I’m like, “Okay, cool.” So nobody saw it and I am like this (acting like nothing happened) (laugh).  So, I was done with the hammering and had to move on to the decking.  And decking was like this long and this tall and it’s steel, it’s pure steel, and it’s heavy.  I am 15 so I am moving through them really fast and I do like 40 of them–taking them in popping them down, taking them in popping them down.  I am thinking this is great.  Dad’s going to come over and tell us we can leave soon.  It’s getting late in the morning and he’s going to take me to lunch.  You know, I’m the bosses son!  I am just worn out and getting dizzy you know (laughing).  He says, “Alright you guys got it I will see you later in the day.”  I’m thinking well I guess I am staying for the rest of the day.  At 15, I am looking back and thinking about this bridge work and thinking about being up there on that bridge and thinking about my own kids and sending them out on the bridge and thinking, “Wow, you know, talk about letting go.”  But it’s the right thing to do.

Later in my experiences with my dad on the bridge, I would still be laying deck out and the trick is that you have angled iron between and there are lips or L-shapes that you are throwing the decking down between and you are just throwing them down and you go.  So you pop a couple in as you go, and then you come back and screw them all out and secure it and the concrete goes down.  Well Dad’s rule was consistency.  You keep 55 mph for 8 hrs you get farther than if you do 75 then 45 then 75 then get a ticket 85, get another ticket, get arrested.  You know you’d take a couple days to get where you are going.  So what he said was to do one piece of decking at a time.  Put one piece down, put a screw in it, and then put another piece down.  Me and the guy that I was working with felt like we knew enough that we’ll put two down and we will fly through this.  So we are putting two down and I’d put the screw in.  The thing about putting two down is that you have one foot on the angle and one foot on the decking.  Without screws in it, you could just do this (acts it out) and it would slide out from under you.  You’ve got 30-40 feet beneath you to road.  It was unmarked road that wasn’t in use yet.  So we are laying out two and I’ve got one foot on an angle and one foot on a piece of decking, and I go to screw it down and  it’s going fine.  We are cheating the system.  We’re cheating Dad’s advice.  The guy I am working with sort of kicks the decking to get it in place and before I know it this thing slides out from under me and in a split second all I see is road and concrete and decking falling.  I’m falling and one of the pieces of decking comes up and cuts my arm and the next moment I am back up on the angle.  Just 30 seconds later and I’m thinking, “Okay, I was  just  free-falling and I grabbed this piece of rebar and pulled myself up.”  I walked back up and I was like, “Cool, I’m not even shaking.” Thirty seconds later I am just shaking and in shock.  My dad comes over about another minute later and says, “Okay let’s get back out there.”  I’m thinking, “You’ve got to be joking right? You saw what just happened. I’ve gotta collect myself.”  That was tough.  That was traumatic.  He said, “If you don’t come out here now you will never come out here again. You’ll be scared of heights the rest of your life.”  So I went back out there.  What that story made me think about was, where in the world does this urgency and this work ethic that I know that my brother and I talk about a lot, we actually try to keep it at bay, but where did it come from?  As I tell those stories about working on the bridge it’s just no mystery as to where that discipline comes from.  It’s the same discipline that told me, “Don’t write down and outline for this talk.  It will come to you.  Whatever these stories are or whatever you are going to talk about will happen.  Nothing wrong could happen so just do it.”  So this work ethic grew throughout my life which helps push this need for me to make sure that this gallery is full or a calendar is full or a map is connected and each dot on the map is connected closely and carefully.

After thinking about those stories I started thinking about this thing that I had read – a small essay out of a group of writings called The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin.  John Ruskin is a writer who I was introduced to through reading Tolstoy, which has become the centerpiece to my inspirational writing and spirituality and Christianity and understanding.  And how it can be misunderstood by so many and mistranslated by so many.  But John Ruskin, in The Stones of Venice, he has an essay called, The Seeing and Feeling Creature, which says that artists are put on this planet to do two things, but in total he’s really describing three things.  He says we are here to see, and to feel, and to document.  The artist can try to think, but he’s not here to do that.  He can try to explain and analyze, but he’s not here to do that.  He can go to parties, but he’s not here to party.  He can’t.  He really can’t.  He can go to the bar and pretend that he’s going to sit down and drink with the rest of the guys, but it can’t last long.  It won’t last long because as soon as he feels something he has to act on it and move on it.  The documenting, which is the third thing in this description and I believe this is true and I understood when I read it, quite a bit.  I recall going to parties growing up and even now when you want to be a good time guy, and you want to be there with everyone else and something creeps in and something has to be done.  It’s a total curse.  And it’s not romantic and it’s really not emotional and it’s sometimes very anti-emotional.  Well maybe emotional isn’t the right word, but maybe it’s not passionate in the way people like to describe passion.  “Oh he’s such a passionate person. I would love to be around that person.”  I doubt you would because you are going to be quickly moved out of the way so that he can get to this documentation.  That they must…that they are just robots in trying to make happy, which is the best thing that I can really say as far as explaining why I do the work here that I do.

I didn’t realize that I was a storyteller until I was asked to do this talk and it made me think about it.  I didn’t realize that my brother and I, regardless of if I make paintings or not and the pictures made stories, that we were storytellers until I started thinking about it.  By default or directly, we are certain storytellers.  That’s been something that the Educational Center has taught me.  In this one event, I didn’t even know about the Educational Center before, but it’s been an amazing exchange in that regard.  But, The Seeing and Feeling Creature hit home for me and when I think about the work ethic that sort of directs me and directs my hands and that directs the work order of the schedule that I feel like I should keep, the “seeing and feeling” philosophy don’t jive so well or work together so well because when you are seeing and feeling everything and you’ve got a schedule to keep and a place to be and some people who need to count on you, you just  might not be there, because you might feel something that you have to go take care of.  I’ve had this experience where I’ve gotta be somewhere and I am driving, leaving home, and I drive by the farm that’s near my house and I see a horse that had died the night before.  As morbid and it will sound, I can’t help that I had to turn around and go get my camera and photograph as much of it as I could.  I don’t’ know why.  It could sound grotesque to some people, maybe not to a [person] who is going to come and take the horse away, but for most of us it’s kind of like, “Well, why would you want a picture of that?”  Well I don’t know, but I do know that when I am standing there taking a picture and being late for my appointment, which may be art related, it’s this weird conflict that is happening.  This “seeing and feeling” is actually taking away from the “seeing and feeling” that happened.  There is definitely something that’s happened to experience this body that no more soul will inhabit, that it is just this piece of future dirt.  That’s real interesting to me.  With the “seeing and feeling” and the work ethic, there’s a balance that is ongoing for me and at the moment as I think about what I am called to do and my obligations to the visual and through song and through story, it feels in order.  But in the next moment it very well could flip over and find itself off the rails.

This opportunity to speak came at a time where self-awareness is not a big part of my life at the moment.  A year ago, when Shelia and Tom were so nice to come see my talk I was still talking about this self-actualization that maybe I heard about in psychology class in high school, and talking about self awareness and still this hope for control of something. The opportunity to do this talk came at a time when self-awareness is relatively ailing for me.  That made me think of a story.  This year Seth and I were invited to go to a forest fire benefit show in Texas.  We got a call from our booking agency that said, “Ray from Asleep at the Wheel is playing as Willie Nelson’s band at this event.  It’s going to be Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, The Dixie Chicks and George Straight and you’ve been invited to come and sing with Willie Nelson on stage.  It’s going to be a great event.  It’s going to be huge!  It’s going to be 16-18,000 people all around in the big stadium.  It’s sold out and it’s a great opportunity.”  It could have been any event for us to go and share the stage with Willie Nelson, we would have jumped on it.  So I said that we’d love to and we made the agreement.  They came to us and said, “What songs would you like to do?”  I said, “Well I think we’d like to do one of our songs, one of Willie’s songs and then a gospel song.”  Then they came back and said, “Well, Willie doesn’t do other people’s songs and he only knows two gospel songs.”  So we said, “Well, what two gospel songs does he know?”  They said, “Well, Will the ‘Circle be Unbroken’ and ‘On a Cloudy Day’.”  So we said, “Well okay we will do those two and then we will do one of his, that’s fine.”  So we show up that day and they say, “Willie wrote a song called ‘Roll me up and Smoke me when I die’.  We’re going to do ‘Roll me up and Smoke me when I die’, ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ and ‘On the Road Again’.”  It was going to be the grand finale for the show.  We were like, “Whatever!  We will play it.”  Well Ray was on the bus with us and he said, “I don’t even know what key the song is in.  He told me “C” but I’ve never even heard the song.  We’ll be on stage to play it.  It doesn’t look like we are going to get a sound check.  Willie won’t show up until 10 minutes before the show so forget about that anyway.  So it looks like the first time you are going to be on stage with me or Willie Nelson is when we are going to play.”  We were like, “Okay, sounds good.”  (laugh).  This is like a huge group of people–cowboy hats, trucker hats.  You’ve got Lyle Lovett wandering around. The Dixie Chicks haven’t played in 5 years. George Straight has more #1 hits than anybody in history, so this is just a great event.  Early, you know the nerves are definitely starting to twist, because I am thinking, “Man I can’t play lead in “E” for ‘On the Road Again’ on the banjo.  I’m not even capable of it, and maybe I am in “E” sometimes and maybe I don’t even know!”  I am thinking this is going to be crazy.  I am not too nervous about going on stage for the first time with Willie Nelson in front of people, that’s okay.  But, if he calls on me to do something I don’t know.  We are getting close.  The stage manager calls us over and it’s almost our big moment.  Willie’s doing his thing and the show is amazing.  Such a tale, such a road that he’s seen and such a life that he’s seen.  We are watching all of this up on stage and the stage manager says, “Look we aren’t doing this ‘Roll me up and Smoke me when I die’ song.  The band doesn’t know it, you guys aren’t going to know it, so we’ll just skip it.  So ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ and ‘On the Road again’.”  I was like, “Cool.”  That was like a pound of weight is lifted off and I’m feeling better.  We’re waiting and we’re looking at the teleprompter up there and it’s like giving the songs and the setlist and here comes ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ and we’re thinking, OK and he says, “Okay GO!”  Seth and I go out there and we are trying to maintain our composure.  We get our instruments up and I plug in the banjo and Seth’s plugging in the guitar.  Willies’ just looking at us and smiling.  They told us, “Willie’s just going to love having you up there.  He loves playing with as many people as he can. It’s going to be great.”  So he’s looking and he kind of looks over with a question expression on his face.  He kind of walks up and he looks down at the banjo and he says, “mumble mumble…what key?”  I thought, “Did he just ask me what key?”  I said, “Key of G?” and he said, “What song?” There were like 16,000 people and I was like, “Will the circle be Unbroken?”  He looked over at Seth and said, “Key of G?” and Seth said, “Yea” and he said, “Well alright!” (laughs).  And he’s just like 78 years old and his hands and everything are just ripping it up and so graceful and not missing a note.  I’m just watching his fingers just move, and I look over and he’s just grinnin’.

But it was a great experience and it made me think about self-awareness and that 10 years ago when I started on this journey that I am with the music, I probably would have looked at that in such a different way.  I would have thought, “How in the WORLD does he not know what song we’re going to play?  How in the world does he not know, maybe, where he’s at? (laughs)” That’s not what I thought at all.  If I would have attempted that 10 years ago I would have been as ridiculous as I was to steal a stop sign.  To even judge that or to even think that I have a right to assess that would be crazy because Seth and I have looked at each other plenty of times and said, “Are we in Ohio?” (laughs).  We know where we are, because we talk about it all day.  We ate here and talked to everyone that was there.  We know the people there by name!  It’s just the self awareness of where you are and my point in all of that is there really is much less of a tale or a path that I think about with the work.  There’s a little bit of a direction.  I really don’t have much faith in a future for it.  I don’t really bother with that.  I do have faith in the direction, but you know, it’s right now.  It’s this moment and I’m going to do what I can to make the next piece and understand why I am making the next piece.  When I see something and feel it, I know to go and do it.  And I know the things that I don’t think that I did well I try to do them better the next time.  That’s pretty much the mathematics to that.  And the work, I am careful to walk around and talk about meanings or hidden meanings because I think when I get to try to sound sophisticated or complicated or speak in big words it’s just because I am lying or I just want to hear myself talk.  I really don’t want to lie and I really do get tired of hearing myself talk believe it or not.  Although I am the one who is usually outside of the bus keeping fans longer than they are wanting.  They are like, “You really should go inside.” and I’m like, “Well hold on, you should hear about this one time when Seth was like this…let’s talk about this painting….you want my autograph?!”  and they are like, “No it’s okay.”  (laughs)

So those are my stories, and I do think that I have learned most importantly that all of these pictures are stories and I do have something to say, I certainly do and I can speak on all of them.  But I am really thankful that the Educational Center put that reflective device in front of me to help me realize that WOW, there are a lot of stories here and I need to document them.  This life and the facet of stories that are in them being told every moment, in short and in long, it’s a beautiful thing. To think that there is not a spiritual accompaniment, we can all talk about what we know, and it’s jibberish probably, but we all know that there is something we don’t know.  I think we can all agree on that.

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Evolution of a Song – “Rejects in the Attic” – Part 1

It has been almost four years since Seth and Scott Avett debuted Rejects in the Attic at an intimate Merlefest songwriter’s workshop.  That morning, fans nestled into the 200-seat auditorium with grand hopes that they would witness something truly special.  I doubt that any of us were prepared for this song and the palpable heartache that echoed through Seth’s microphone.   Once an orphaned sheet of scribbled lyrics buried in a disheveled pile, Seth dusted off Rejects, dismantled it and pieced it back together, replacing Scott’s pain and vulnerability with his own.

As fans, we speculate on what may drive the emotion behind such a heavy song–despair, regret, shame, hopelessness.  Though we will never fully understand the twisted path a song takes from start to finish–even when written by two brothers, years apart–it was clear that on that day, as Seth sat with his journal and heart left open for the world to see, the pain behind those lyrics being uttered in public for the first time was fresh and present and very personal.

Seth’s face told a story of sleepless nights and mental anguish. With eyes shut, the weighty lyrics left his lips to find sympathetic ears and sturdy shoulders.  Suddenly, we realized that we were there to share the burden.  We held our breath and took it in, collectively acknowledging the therapeutic exchange that was unfolding before us.  We were not just a passive sounding board that day, but rather a living, breathing levee taking on a flood of emotion.  And just when we thought the chairs may buckle beneath us, Seth opened his eyes, looked to the sky and asked us for more.   We obliged, hopeful that whatever role we played that day for him allowed those holes of pain to be filled in with new found joy.

As Seth closed the song, an almost embarrassed smile spread across his face like that of a grade school kid who just finished reading aloud his first poem in English class.  That bashful authenticity reminded us all that even though we often find ourselves separated from them by a steel barrier or tour bus window, we are all just a bunch of rejects riding through this crazy, beautiful, painful experience together.

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Album Review – Mipso’s “Old Time Reverie”

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“Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

Ferris Bueller was a man of the people–an 80’s pop culture icon created in the era of John Hughes’ brilliance.  Ferris’ words continue to find footing thirty years after audiences caught their first glimpse of the vested hero on the big screen.  He was right–life does move pretty fast.  In our current culture of instagramification it can require some serious effort to slow down, stop multitasking and take a break from all of the Facebook updates and Tweets.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution that often yields positive results–music.  Music is that powerful catalyst that forces you to look up from the glow of your iPhone.  When the sound of joyful voices melting together into a rich harmony hits your eardrum, you can no  longer ignore the goosebumps on the back of your arms and the calming breath in your chest.  Music pulls you away from all of the noise.  It frees you.

On their third studio album, Old Time Reverie, Mipso serves up just that–freedom.  Sitting down with this album transports the listener back to a simpler time, though not one without its own set of obstacles, as evidenced by the album opener “Marianne.”  With a happy fiddle playing peek-a-boo throughout the song, one may mistaken “Marianne” for a jovial tune.  Lyrics tell a different story, one of the forbidden love of an interracial couple in 1960s North Carolina.  Mipso sets the storytelling bar high with “Marianne,” a familiar approach for the band’s album openers–hook the listener from the get go and hold ’em ’til the end.

Down in the Water” follows with Rodenbough’s timeless, crisp vocals at the forefront.  The simplicity and tone of the song feel hymnal, even baptismal at times.  However, the beauty of the song emerges in its content and transcends church walls as Rodenbough pleads for a quiet and content mind–a very relatable request.  “Eliza,” a lover’s plea laced with three-part harmonies, brings a little folky waltz to the album and is sure to be a live fan favorite.

On “Bad Penny,” Terrell hits the ground running, taking listeners on a wild lyrical goose chase with his ever evolving gift of storytelling.   The song’s fiddle line elicits images of a Smoky Mountain family feud, even though the story unfolds in modern-day NYC.  It is in playing with these lyrical and musical contradictions that Mipso continues to grow and evolve as a group.

With Sharp on lead vocals, “Momma” tugs at the heartstrings, combining a Simonesque melody with Mipso harmonies and honesty.   “Father’s House” highlights the gospel influence that often accompanies Mipso’s bluegrass roots.  Here the band uses religious imagery to tackle feelings of isolation and uncertainty in life and death.

“Captain’s Daughter” sets sail on the high seas, telling the story of a lonely seaman who yearns to reunite with his land-bound love, Annabelle.  Rodenbough’s fiddle brings in Celtic tones, transporting the listener across the pond to a more rustic land where passion is fierce in both love and trade.

“Stranger,” a more modern love ballad for the group, pumps the brakes while breaking hearts.  “Honeybee” picks up the pieces and brings in a bit of sweet springtime sunshine.  Terrell convinces listeners that he’s singing from a very personal space, though in his songwriting prowess perhaps he’s just that good.

Everyone Knows” slithers in with a desperado darkness, fit for a Tarantino flick.  Though a bit of a departure for Mipso, it stands tall as the album’s best track.  On “Everyone Knows,” Mipso stepped out boldly into the dusty town square, pulled their pistols and walked away unscathed.   The only thing missing now is an accompanying video.  Jon Kasbe get your camera ready.

The album closes with “4 Train,” a love song set to a steady locomotive cadence.  Touching on familiar emotions that accompany love, “4 Train” shines a spotlight on each band member’s talents, book-ending the album perfectly.

Old Time Reverie offers listeners a solid collection of stories, steeped in traditional acoustic instrumentation and tight-knit harmonies at a steady rocking chair pace.  With each listen, you may find it easier and easier to pull yourself away from the hustle and bustle and take a moment to really live inside the beauty of a carefully crafted song.

Ironically, the members of Mipso weren’t even born when Ferris first delighted downtown Chicago with his famous renditions of “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout.”  Yet, somehow they collectively possess his spirit, charm, and ability to captivate an audience.  On Old Time Reverie, Terrell, Sharp, Robinson and Rodenbough further reveal the old souls that live in their youthful vessels–wise beyond their years, much like Mr. Bueller.

Mipso is a four-piece folk/bluegrass band out of Chapel Hill, NC consisting of Joseph Terrell (guitar), Wood Robinson (double bass), Jacob Sharp (mandolin) and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle).

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Interview – Marco With Love

Photo credit - Curtis Wayne Millard

Photo credit – Curtis Wayne Millard

EOAF recently caught up with frontman Marco Argiro (guitar/lead vocals) of Brooklyn-based indie rock band Marco With Love to discuss the band’s upcoming EP, Townes Van Zandt, NYC inspiration, Slimer from Ghostbuster, and his kick ass band members Subodh Samudre (bass/ backing vocals), Blaine O’Brien (pedal steel/backing vocals) and Peter Landi (drums/backing vocals).   The band’s four track EP, Tidal Wave, is slated for release on July 17th.

EOAF: What’s the quick and dirty of how you guys came together (when, where, how, etc.)?

Argiro: I met Peter a few years back when we were both doing live session work for a mutual friend of our’s band. He and I became fast friends and later he ended up playing drums for my British side project The Killing Floor. So when I was assembling the live band that would later turn into Marco With Love he was the obvious choice to be the drummer. Subodh and I met at Ping Pong Tournament some years ago hosted at the Corbis offices in NYC. We bonded over a mutual admiration for 90’s power pop bands like Superdrag and Nada Surf and talked about one day having a jam. Our schedules didn’t line up to make good on that jam ’til a couple years later when I was wrapping up production on the Love LP. We had a instantaneous spark. Together we worked on the music for what would later become Tidal Wave, the band’s first song. I met Blaine at the 11th street bar in the East Village only a few short years back. He was playing pedal steel and harmonica in his band Brothers NYC and I just so happened to be the support act on the bill. I was immediately intrigued by his playing and style having just spent the last couple years exploring the cosmic American music of Gram Parsons. Up until this point I hadn’t seen anyone playing steel guitar up close before, and I was blown away by the sound he was putting out. I remember approaching him after their set and asking if we was a fan of “Sneaky Pete” Kleinlow. Thankfully he said yes, and within a short few months he joined Subodh, Peter and myself at the next rehearsal. The core of MWL’s lineup was now in place, the rest is as they say. History.

What inspired the new EP? 

The new EP was inspired by living in the big city, our collective travels around the globe, family, and the need to create our own blend of Jangly Country Fried Rock n Roll music. Visionary artists like John Lennon, Tom Petty, and high energy garage acts like the Sonics and The Troggs really helped path the way for us and helped the guys and I to push the boundaries of conventional modern music. We have also decided to add a fourth cut to the EP. It’s a song called “Leave It Behind” and some folks may recognize it from the Love LP. The original version is in a different key and was recorded back in 2012 in my Bushwick basement studio. The band and I felt the new MWL version far better represented our band’s sonic evolution and captures the intensity of the band’s live show with some added psychedelia production.

Why did you choose to include a Townes Van Zandt cover (Waiting Around to Die) on your EP?  How does it fit with the other song?

We decided to include the Townes cover on the EP because we all loved the way it turned out in the studio. The song has a great vibe and truly captured a moment. We also felt that it helped showcase our band’s versatility and ability to explore related genres. Waiting Around to Die is the kind of song we aspire to write ourselves one day. As far as how it fits on this particular EP, we felt the fictional drifter in this particular song is not unlike the character in Poor Young and Gifted and also share similarities to one of the main characters in Leave It Behind. Both had an abusive father and had to endure hardships along life’s journey.

What is your songwriting process like…who is the primary songwriter?  How do others contribute?

Our songwriting process varies from tune to tune. Historically I have been the primary songwriter for the band, but with the Tidal Wave single the music has been more of a collaborative effort. For example, during one of our earlier writing sessions Subodh had a really cool riff that he had been messing around with. He shared the idea with me and we quickly started jamming on it for a while until we came up with some other chord changes together and thus the rough outline for the tune was born. I generally record these raw sessions into an iPhone singing a rough melody so they can be further explored at another time and mined for other potential ideas. Once we’ve had a chance to shape them a bit more we like to get the whole band together and start jamming as a unit. We usually then realize what is missing from the arrangement and each member adds the dynamics that are needed in order to fill out the song on the their respective instrument. Every single member of MWL is a multi-instrumentalist and capable of writing songs on their own so this helps tremendously when being objective during a jam or a writing session. In between rehearsals and gigs is typically when I work on lyrics for the songs. Living in Brooklyn, I often write in transit. Mostly on subway commutes or even in the back of cabs utilizing the iPhone again only this time working on lyrics by typing in notes. Though I prefer to write in my home studio in Clinton Hill, you never know when a line will come to you and a potential lyric will be born.

Did you all grow up in NYC or just live there as adults?  If not, where did you grow up and how was music incorporated into your lives?

Like most people living on this island we all originally came from other places. My father and his family immigrated to New York from Italy back in the early 60’s, but he and my mom ended up moving to South Florida where they raised my sisters and I down in Fort Lauderdale. From a very early age music became the driving force in my life–started bands with my best friends, made records, and submersed myself in the local punk music scene. The only member of the band that actually grew up in the New York area is our drummer Pete Landi. He grew up out in Sag Harbor and like the rest of us music played an integral part of his youth. Subodh, our bassist and his family ended up settling in Virginia Beach, Virginia after living all over the world. He grew up playing in bands in the early post hardcore emo scene in Virginia Beach then continued to make waves playing and touring with various bands in Richmond, VA. Blaine, too, called Virginia home, only his town was Roanoke. I think it’s safe to say we all got the musical bug pretty early on in life which helped shape our trajectory.

What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write?

Various subject matter tends to inspire our band’s material.  While some songs tend to lean more towards abstract thought and points of view, others are more direct chronicles of the lives of family and friends. Tidal Wave could very well be about turning over a new leaf as much as it could be about the ridding oneself of poisonous people in our life. We consider ourselves socially conscious, but not overtly political. To quote Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dream. Wandering by lone sea breakers, and sitting by desolate streams. World losers and world forsakers, for whom the pale moon gleams. Yet we are movers and the shakers of the world forever it seems.”

How has living in NYC influenced your music?

Living in New York City has kept us street smart and continues to inspire all of us on a daily basis. Getting just about anything done in NYC is just a little bit harder than most other places we’ve lived. Though the city is almost too fast paced and often can prove to be logistically difficult, the people and the rich musical history help keep our heads in the clouds.

Why type of venue/music event do you enjoy the most? (listening room, bar, club, festival, songwriters session, etc)?

Every stage we get up on has its perks. There’s something about playing to an intimate room where people are listening to every lyric and really engaging, but of course for us rockers playing a big festival or club show with a packed room is pretty darn cool. Regardless of the size of the audience we always aim to make every last person in the room leave the venue with a smile on his/her face. Ideally they will remember their MWL show experience and bring a friend to the next one.

What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?

I love it when the show all comes together, it’s really rewarding for us to work hard on writing the material, rehearsing it with the band and then the big pay off comes when we play out for a live audience. It really is a symbiotic relationship between the audience and the guys and I. It’s always nice to return to a city or venue and looking out into the crowd only to notice people are singing along or even just smiling. There was one time that we played the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn with a couple bands from Detroit when the guys and I noticed that there was a guy dressed up in a Slimer costume from the Ghostbusters movie.

How has social media helped your music career?

Social Media is a blessing and a curse. On one hand it has helped us reach music fans in far off lands as well as down the road from us in Brooklyn. On the other hand, I feel it can take away the mystique that musicians once had. People end up knowing way more about artists these days. As a musician it can sometimes seem like a chore. I think overall I’d prefer to just make music rather than worrying about telling everyone what were doing at that particular moment. That being said, I bought into it early on and saw the potential and reach that it could provide independent artists.

Tell me a bit about your upcoming touring schedule…how are you going to promote this EP on the road?

Well, we plan on having an EP release party here in NYC, in addition to a few dates in Nashville, San Francisco & Los Angeles. We will be getting our new record into all the mom and pop and independent Brick n Mortar record stores that we possibly can around the states and across the pond in the UK/ Europe.

What do you do when you aren’t writing or performing?  Any other interests or charity work?

When I’m not writing or performing you’ll likely find me behind the bar slinging drinks, however I like to spend time with family, read, and watch documentaries with my dog Layla. I’m also a volunteer member of Musicians On Call here in NYC. We do our best to brighten the day for sick kids and their families. Subodh is a Creative Director and Art Director for Advertising, a rock ’n roll photographer, music composer and is always busy producing art projects with his design company ‘Make Things Awesome.’ Peter works in a record store and also fronts his own grunge rock band, The Glazzies. Blaine designs websites, is a honky-tonk DJ, does kickboxing in addition to session work for other groups.

Take a listen to the first single off of MWL’s EP, Tidal Wave, and check in on news and tour dates via Facebook.

 

 

 

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Interview – Paleface

Photo by Sooz White

Photo by Sooz White

In a world where musical authenticity is constantly being called to question, anti-folk icon, Paleface, is as real as they get. After nearly three decades of writing and performing music, Paleface remains true to his craft and continues to create art that is raw, fresh, and inspired.

Paleface’s music career is much like a collection of short stories, woven together with unpredictable highs and lows—each chapter marked with different shades of joy, sorrow, chaos and control. Throughout it all Paleface has managed to come out on the other side with tales to tell.

Paleface got his start playing music at NYC clubs in the late 80s, rubbing shoulders with creative minds like Daniel Johnston and Beck. While being managed by the legendary Danny Fields, Paleface signed a major-label record deal, began putting out albums, and touring with bands like Crash Test Dummies and The Breeders. Everything appeared to be falling into place, but by the late 90s Paleface’s partying lifestyle caught up with him, nearly taking his life and forcing him to reevaluate his direction.

By 2000, a sober Paleface found himself among a new crop of imaginative musicians in NYC, many calling themselves “anti-folk.” Artists like Kimya Dawson, Regina Spektor, and Langhorne Slim shared the stage with Paleface, and he soon became an integral part of the anti-folk scene.

“Anti-folk didn’t stand for anything,” Paleface said. “It was whatever you can do to make art you should share it, get on stage, do it. If people like it, great, if they don’t, that’s OK, too. Nobody was gonna crucify you ‘cause you were bad or not what they wanted. In that anti-folk scene nobody would care ‘cause anything goes.”

It was during this period in his career when Paleface struck up a friendship with Scott and Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers). This instant artistic connection ultimately drew him, and girlfriend/drummer Monica “Mo” Samalot, away from New York in 2008 to start a new life in Concord.

After moving to North Carolina, Paleface and Samalot hit the road, touring as a high-energy folk-rock duo throughout the United States and Europe. Paleface continued to record and release albums like the self-released “A Different Story” as well as “The Show Is On The Road” and “One Big Party” on Ramseur Records. Studio and on-stage collaborations with The Avett Brothers exposed a whole new audience to Paleface’s music and it appeared that his momentum had shifted up again.

However, a health scare and setback in Europe while promoting “One Big Party” forced the pair to take time off to regroup, yet again. Unable to tour, Paleface spent time focusing on getting healthy and painting — a talent he had discovered while living in NYC.

“Painting is very meditative and relaxing in a way that music is not,” Paleface said. “It’s like a puzzle that you figure out as you go which at any moment can change or be wrecked by your next move. Music, if you change something you can immediately go back to how you had it if you don’t like the change.”

Paleface creates bright, bold, music-inspired folk-art. His canvas and drum head paintings often carry uplifting themes, much like his music, and he sells them as special one-of-a-kind merchandise at shows.

“I think of my paintings as rock-n-roll folk art, and my music, too,” Paleface said. “I like the fact that people can get this special thing that’s much better than a CD or T-shirt or even a print … 250 sold paintings later I’m still making them and getting more and more interested in it all the time.”

In reality the paintings help to supplement the often stretched-thin income of a touring independent artist. Life on the road is difficult, but Paleface has managed to stay positive after all of these years.

“[Touring] is harder work than people know,” Paleface said. “It sounds romantic and I wouldn’t trade it, but you can get tired with the miles. Great shows can always help build you up and bad shows remind you nothing is certain, but I love seeing all the friends we’ve made out there on the road and checking on the progress they’ve made in their own lives.”

Paleface has been touring through Greenville for several years, a stop that he may have missed had it not been for his connection with the Avetts.

“The first time we ever came was back in the day playing with the band Oh What a Nightmare, which at the time was The Avett Brothers’ other project, kind of a hard rock trio with Seth on drums and Scott on electric,” Paleface said. “I like Greenville a lot. The Spazzatorium was a great scene and Jeff [Blinder] who used to book there had really good taste so it was always fun to go there and play. After it closed we just kept coming back because we liked playing here.”

While the Avetts may have brought Paleface to Greenville, Samalot keeps the duo coming back. She is the driving force when it comes to the business side of things — mapping out tour routes, booking venues, handling all social media—in addition to rocking the drums and singing harmonies. Paleface and Samalot are partners in every sense of the word. On and off stage their mutual respect and love is unmistakable and they are constantly pushing each other to improve.

“(Samalot) really loves harmony so we’ve been doing a bit of that of late,” Paleface said. “She also remembers songs that I forget and if she likes it enough pushes me to bring it back and make it something. I must confess that I’ve only recorded a fraction of the songs I’ve written so it is good to have someone who remembers them.”

When it comes to songwriting, Paleface’s talent is off the charts. He is a true storyteller, creating a unique auditory experience that reaches all ages. Paleface’s ability to write songs with traditional acoustic instrumentation that ends up feeling charged and electric is unmatched and magical.

“[It’s an] obsession,” Paleface said. “I don’t need to bottle it. It just is an inextinguishable flame that burns inside.”

As he begins another new chapter in his career, Paleface is approaching his newest material from a more informed and introspective place. Though it has been challenging, he is confident that his approach will yield some of his best music to date.

“For a while, because I’ve had a rough time in the music (business), I just wanted to stand on stage and sing happy songs and I didn’t really care if it was cool or not,” Paleface said. “Lately I’ve felt a little restless with that. I’m taking my time with it so I don’t know when it will be finished, hopefully soon.”

Until then, fans can catch Paleface touring across the country. This month, Paleface will once again make a stop in Greenville to close out Spazz Fest VI at Christy’s Europub on March 22 from 7-11 p.m. Fans can expect Paleface to deliver another fun and lively performance, full of some of his best old tunes, a few new ones and plenty of audience interaction.

“I want [the audience] to feel the energy and give it back so we can both bug out to the sound vibrations,” Paleface said.

This piece originally ran in Mixer Magazine.

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Album Review – Justin Townes Earle’s “Absent Fathers”

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If album titles could speak of the wounded heart of an artist, Justin Townes Earle’s latest installment, “Absent Fathers,” would be screaming humbly from a Nashville rooftop. This 10-track album is the companion to Earle’s fifth studio album, “Single Mothers,” which was released last year. Earl recorded all tracks live with his four-piece touring band before settling them into their parental album positions. Taken as a pair, these albums bare the soul of a boy-turned-man and his journey to solid ground.

“Absent Fathers” softly, but unapologetically, reveals a side of Earle that longed for a stable father figure, one who could have saved him from the depths of addiction and heartache and taught him how to be a gentleman. Sadly, most fathers who leave a son at the age of two years are not typically equipped for such a noble post. Such appears the case for Earle’s father, alt-country artist Steve Earle, who has certainly faced demons of his own.

Despite his life’s turmoil, Earle, whose voice finds itself nestled somewhere between the muddied mumble of Dylan and the rocker rasp of Springsteen, has catapulted himself into the Americana spotlight with a blue collar mix of folk, blues and country. Much like his godfather, the late Townes Van Zandt, Earl’s vocal delivery teeters on melodic spoken word, often with an unpredictable cadence.

On “Absent Fathers,” Earle’s style translates as if he were reading straight from his personal journal — raw emotion with very little frill, yet full and layered. So layered in fact that on the opening track, “Farther From Me,” it is unclear whether Earle sings of heartbreak from a young love or from being abandoned by his father. It is one of the album’s strongest tracks, tacked down by loneliness and suffering, but unfastened by a hopeful and simple guitar arrangement.

Earle’s unique vocal pacing is most apparent on “Why” and “Least I Got The Blues,” two short tracks that maintain Earle’s wide-open narrative, but have trouble finding a strong footing when measured against the others. “Call Ya Momma” is a mellow, bluesy, rock tune that tells the tale of quarreling lovers on the brink of a forever farewell.

“Day and Night” opens with the lonely whine of pedal steel accompanied by lovely finger picking. This track displays the beauty of Earle’s songwriting with striking lyrics of the uncertainty the day brings as the night is put to rest. “Round the Bend” picks up the pace as the album’s truck-stop rocker, evoking images of Earle standing on the side of a dusty country road using the last of his pocket change to call to his jilted lover.

“When The One You Love Loses Faith” brings Earle’s blues influence to the forefront. With his head hung low, Earle sings of the familiar woes that come to anyone who has loved and lost. Gears shift back to country on “Slow Monday,” which strangely possesses shades of a Randy Newman animated tune and sums up the commonplace opinion of the most dreaded day of the week. “Someone Will Pay” is an upbeat revengeful track with a punchy guitar solo interlude.

The album’s final track, “Looking For A Place To Land,” is a somber but encouraging tune that chronicles the trials of a man eager to evolve beyond boyhood dreams and a painful past. With delicate guitar picking and heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics, Earle ends the album with a story unto which his listeners will attach their own past memories and future optimisms. It is in this unpolished openness that Earle so easily connects to his listeners. As Earle’s story evolves, he will certainly continue to find stability and safety within the Americana’s halls and heart.

Collectively, “Absent Fathers” tells just one part of Earle’s multifaceted life story. Even with a first listen to the album, it is clear that songwriting from the soul is therapeutic for Earle. He sings of his mistakes to make amends with himself and creates a bond with his audience that is rooted in honest emotion and a desire to do better. The album itself finds perfection is its simplicity, relatability and underproduction, which lends listeners a clean and uncluttered collection of songs from the emotional pages of Earle’s past.

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Album Review – Rancid’s “…Honor Is All We Know”

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Nothing exudes the holiday spirit quite like a new Rancid album — this year’s perfect stocking stuffer.

“…Honor Is All We Know” marks the punk rock band’s eighth studio album and its first release since 2009. Punk veteran Tim Armstrong continues to lead Rancid head-on into the fire pit with his unmistakable, gritty vocals and anarchistic, yet upbeat, agenda. Along with longtime bandmate Matt Freeman (bass, vocals), Lars Frederiksen (guitar, vocals) and Branden Steineckert (drums), Armstrong finds a sweet spot between staying true to his punk roots while pushing the tight-fisted genre into the future.

The album opens with a familiar frenzied pace on “Back Where I Belong,” marking the band’s valiant return after five years between recordings. This is a no-frills announcement and a reason for listeners to perk up and pay attention. “Raise Your Fist” follows in all of its anti-authority glory. Chock-full of enough “Oi Oi Oi” chants to rally the masses, this 3-minute track is quintessential Rancid retaliation.

With reminiscing lyrics and a familiar Armstrong tempo, “Collision Course” harkens back to Rancid’s “…And Out Come the Wolves” days, when American punk rock found itself on mainstream music’s frontline. “Evil’s My Friend” brings in that reggae-ska flavor that has peppered Rancid’s sound over the decades, making for a perfect skanking song.

On the title track, Frederiksen and Freeman join Armstrong on lead vocal. This is initially distracting, but speaks volumes of the band’s message of brotherhood and unity. “A Power Inside” is the perfect follow-up to the title track, continuing the positivity of union and inner-strength no matter the cards life has dealt.

“In The Streets” is a punk rock “Freaks Come Out at Night,” chronicling the happenings of late-night street corner huggers. On “Face Up,” Armstrong gives thanks to another day in the struggle after surviving a bar fight. Though tapping out after just 1:35 minutes, this short track still manages to translate vivid imagery and gratefulness to the listener.

The drum-heavy “Already Dead” is a hell-raiser, made for flashes of leather and spikes in a mosh pit full of fast flying elbows and bloody noses. The devilish “Diabolical” speaks to the evil tug-of-war that violence pulls out of the human race. On “Malfunction,” Armstrong and Frederiksen trade off verses smoothly. While the track stays in line lyrically, the drum and guitar arrangement feels almost like a Rolling Stones tune—a little more rock than punk, but a well-received deviation from the norm.

“Now We’re Through With You” calls out the disloyal and maintains the band’s focus on doing right by each other because forgiveness is not an option. “Everybody’s Sufferin’” brings in more surfer-ska and stands out among the other tracks with organ-tones and a slower pace. The album closes with a similar vengeance and fever as it opened on “Grave Digger.” Another track shared by Armstrong and Frederiksen, “Grave Digger” keeps fans in a bit of a purgatory, greedily wanting more. Fortunately for fans, there is a deluxe iTunes version of the album that features an additional three songs.

Collectively, “…Honor Is All We Know” falls in line with typical punk rock albums in that it clocks in at just under 33 minutes. For those who lack the attention span to listen much longer, it is a perfect departure from the real world in about the time it may take to drive to work.

While lyrical intricacies have never been Rancid’s strong suit, the simplicity in message and arrangement continue to serve as a solid backbone on which to build. Despite the fact that Rancid peaked in the mid-90s, the band continues to deliver music with a fresh sound that appeals to the old underground fans as well as young punk rockers who are just discovering the boisterous genre.

As long as Armstrong is at the mic, punk rock will have a distinct voice that will perpetuate a message of unity amidst the defiance. “…Honor Is All We Know” succeeds in this light, and proves that Armstrong and his crew show no signs of backing down from what they came to do—speak loud and proud with a fist in the air and a fight in their hearts.

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