350.org, Ladies, and DC

The next weeks are busy. The band is playing Doug Fir on 11/11 as part of the Siren Nation Festival, we’re working on a few new songs. I am honored to play as part of Bill McKibben’s 350.org Do the Math tour in Portland 11/8. Then 11/13 I’ll be at the Future of Music Summit in DC, discussing arts, culture and policy with Thomas Frank and Sascha Meinrath.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sounds to Words to Sound

Bill Strickland is Editor-at-Large at Bicycling Magazine; author of several books (Ten Points, Tour de Lance, The Quotable Cyclist); and a celebrator of fine beers, local velodromes and the reveal of the ride. It is always a great pleasure to run into him in varied locales, in the company of dedicated cyclists and beautiful bicycles.


I tried thwap thwap thwap and that was not right, that did not work at all, so by hand but in ink at least, in a notebook sitting next to my keyboard I wrote whomp then I put a question mark after the word then I scribbled over the whole thing. I typed in whompwhompwhompwhompawhompwhomp and that was not it either, but there was something in that accidental “a” that had dropped in after a whomp that intrigued me. That single letter, that was getting somewhere. I picked up my pen and held it over the paper of my notebook again and put it down and its clack onto the surface of my desk got my attention so that I was listening when I closed the notebook and the sheets made a sound not at all like two people sliding into bedsheets but one that somehow evoked just that. So I had the bedsheets of my notebook, and the two people the sheets implied — Who were they? And were they exhausted or aroused? — and I had that strange compelling “a” in the whompwhompwhomp. I read aloud what I had: “The cars come, they precede the bicycles, they whompwhompwhompwhompawhompwhomp

It was a nice try, anyway. I never wrote the story, never even finished the sentence. No matter. Mine is a profession of waste and an art of tiny victories pulled from immense failure. And, anyway, I think about that “a” pretty often, and not only when I am writing. I think, as well, about the bedsheets in my notebook, and I like that I never decided who the two people were.

One winter afternoon, in the Midwestern state I was born in but was now just visiting I was out for a ride, alone, cold, happy, on my way toward tired but not close, on a road like a spear thrown through the far horizon. On either side of me knocked-down cornfields rustled in a frenzied arctic wind. Around and over and into my bicycle, the same wind sometimes was like a child learning to whistle, sometimes like someone blowing bass notes by breath into an empty coke bottle, sometimes like the smack of a bantamweight’s glove. The working of the chain and gears were reminding me of something I could not name or identify except to know it had been lost. The wind stopped. There was something else. Like a choir in the church across town on a spring night. I stopped. Above me, power lines and telephone wires sang. I listened, head cocked and eyes closed, one foot on the ground, my thigh across the top tube of the bike, my arms crossed over the handlebar. The chain and gears — the tone arm of the record player I owned when I last lived here, grooved into the center of the album that spun and spun and spun, the end that never ended, what came after the music and was not music until, if you left the album spinning through the night, in your sleep it became so.

Rebecca, she loves sound so much she inspires everyone around her to do the same. My writing has more sounds (and perhaps is more sound) since I’ve gotten to know her. And the same, I think, is true for my life.



Posted in Writers | Leave a comment

Christmas Party

We drove out of Barcelona, past the Montjuic cemetery, circling several roundabouts (one of them more than once) to the La Castanya Christmas fȇte. The label family is spirited and talented in the music and the hang. It rained, pouring rain, all day. Local food cooked over the open fireplace, the bathroom made from an old cask.


Posted in From tour and travels, Personal | Leave a comment

Russians on the Costa Brava

My Catalan language skills are non-existent, Spanish weak, and my Russian is limited to ten words. We (Ted Leo + Joan from La Castanya and photographer Alberto Polo) are in the Costa Brava and I can finally start sliding in some French, which, while not fluent, I feel comfortable speaking. A surprise of the last days is how many Russians are here. There’s a lovely zhzhzhzhzzh combined with with the lisp of Catalunya on everyone’s lips.

Two reviews of the Madrid show here and here.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Madrid Day 1

Here are a few linxx if you speak Spanish or are just plain curious:

Podcast of interview and songs with me and Ted on Radio 3 with Julio Ruiz

Interview at El Confidencial

and thoughts on a few guitarists: SPANISH or in ENGLISH

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Float to The Float

I first encountered the writing of Jonathan Lethem when a friend recommended Motherless Brooklyn. Lack from As She Climbed Across the Table is a character that continues to randomly pop into my head, shape-shifting and present, and it’s been years since I read that book. Thanks to Merge Records for the connection. Many thanks to Jonathan for sharing his kind thoughts with us here.

The latest in our series of authors writing about the place of our music in their life and times: (for previous entries from Francis Lam, Peter Terzian and Will Allison, click on the “writers” tag at the bottom of this post.)


I’ve just spent a summer listening – again, and for the first time – to the music of Rebecca Gates (including the recordings of the band in which she debuted her singing and songcraft, The Spinanes). This has been – well, among many ambiguous sensations, a few of which I’ll try to pin to this page, the simplest thing to say is that’s it’s been an immense pleasure. The Spinanes records had wandered from my immediate view, in the way music does in this era of plenitude and rival formats – I’d listened to their first on LP, and never even known whether it was all digitized for re-acquisition to the new venues that have stealthily come to dominate my listening hours (mostly, and pathetically, my own laptop computer). Then, by of odd chance I came across “Hawaiian Baby”; I’d been asked to curate a mixed-CD out of the Merge Records catalog, and there it was. I picked the song for my curated disc, wildly happy to be reminded of all it reminded me of – the band, the song itself, and the Verlaines’ “Death and the Maiden”, which the song quotes in passing, almost subliminally, and the time in my life when I listened frequently to the band – my youth, that is, and theirs. “Hawaiian Baby” lends itself fairly well to nostalgic emotion, since the tone of the song evokes a catalogue of sentimental pleasures —  “the taste of your right earlobe” and so forth. But in that it isn’t actually typical of Gates’ music – the entirety of which I’ve been delving into, all the way through the last Spinanes record I’d heard at the time it was produced, to some records I hadn’t, and including her wonderful newest recordings.

In fact, I find the experience of rediscovering Rebecca Gates’ older songs and encountering her new ones somewhat disconcerting, precisely because of the way they collectively refuse any easy placement along an index of sentiment or nostalgia. Gates’ work evokes and conveys emotion – but never resides simply within it. There’s a pensiveness hanging over the words and melodies, an unwillingness ever to take an easy opportunity for self-pity or accusation, or even to produce an unearned laugh or sob, that gives the music an air of intellectual rigor – if that’s not too fancy a quality to impute to rock and roll. Nostalgia is merely one of many avenues too rote for these songs to go down. Gates’ music quietly and steadily demands that you meet it in a place where feelings are being held scrupulously to the light – and the relative austerity of the production choices, no matter what kind of instrumentation is being employed, keeps that feeling timeless. If I had to make a comparison for Gates’ gifts, I’d pick either (or both) Buddy Holly and Brian Eno, two musicians so natively and helplessly forward-looking that their work similarly seems to stand outside time. So, in this summer of rediscovery, even as my regard for what Gates and the Spinanes had meant for me when I was in my ‘20’s kept tugging me back to forgotten feelings, the forward-looking, clear-eyed intensity of the songs themselves demanded I acknowledge them with everything I’d learned and become, in the fifteen or so years since our earlier encounter.

A strange sensation, and I’m really grateful for it.







Posted in Writers | Leave a comment

Always the return

I’m writing a quick blog post for Playground, in advance of heading to Europe next week to tour with Ted Leo. Inevitably, there’s video links to include…came across these two. Music, offers context, of a moment, eternal…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tools of the trade

@thesonicyouth just posted that one of their guitars (stolen in 1999) has been found. Someone posted a query on the OffsetGuitars forum, looking for opinions and information regarding a guitar trade. A few guitars have been recovered already.

The description of the guitar is amazing, no one can make sense of it.  A little bit of insight into the tools of the trade.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sounds for you

Two new items of note:

The fabulous Daniel Ralston of the Low Times Podcast sat with me in NYC last month. We enjoyed a couple of beautiful coffees and discussed music, the biz and cycling. The only possible improvement would have been if we were casually swimming in the Mediterranean as we sipped and spoke. Podcast here.
link to share, should you wish: http://bit.ly/lowti

In May, the Daytrotter folks kindly asked us to stop by their SF studios while we were on tour. They’ve just archived the session.
link to share, should you wish: http://bit.ly/PDy646

I haven’t listened to either of these. I hear they are entertaining. Since our Chicago show last Sunday I’ve been in the Wasatch mountains at an amazing event that brought together artists, activists and facilitators working on issues of social justice. More on that, and the tour, later…

Posted in Culture, Sounds, The Agency League of Musicians | Leave a comment

Half time

It’s a beautiful early summer morning in the NE. The band is asleep, except for Rebecca Cole, who just landed in NYC from Portland after playing with the Portland Cello Project this weekend. We will collect her later today.

Between playing, organizing, try to stay present, not get exhausted, make future plans, the last few weeks have been intense. And wonderful. I knew that doing business myself would be a lot to manage. It’s another reason I waited so long to put out the record.

The shows have been completely worth it. We’ve seen old friends, met new folks and everyone (so far) has been overwhelmingly kind. They also have enjoyed themselves. As have we. We’re at half-time on this tour and it’s ending too soon.

One thing that has suffered is advocacy work. It’s difficult to pay attention to everything I need to for the album and still track what’s happening legislatively, with the election, with responses to current events. And writing. I need to be writing, both words and songs.

Today we’ll drive through five states. I can tell we are not out west.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment