Yes, yes, yes.

I get this, at a very deep level. This is how I approach music.

“Either you are the music or you’re not. There are a lot of people that want to do what I do, but what I do is about humility and righteousness and understanding, because music is precious. I know it’s just rock and roll, but there are moments in there. There really are and you can’t miss them. It’s got to be soulful, it’s got to speak to you, it’s got to twist your little heart, and you have to be turned on.” – Andy Johns, Producer, in September 2010 Guitar Player (see credits here)

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At least we’re big with someone…

This was posted on my Facebook Wall…

“I’m camping with my 3 yr old this weekend and had American Sun playing. He asked me to put it on in his room of the RV as his “sleeping music”. I said “you know what bud? The man singing is daddy’s friend”. His response was “I love daddy’s friend”.

I’m not sure three year olds were your intended audience, but with him…”

Gems

Here’s the track list for the next Maida Vale disc (not in order)

  • Jordan!
  • Signs of Life
  • State Street Serenade
  • Is Your Heart Blue?
  • You Look Good
  • Broken on the Wheels of Love
  • Big Events in Loneliness
  • Tick Tock
  • Never Been Good

I’m excited to wrap this thing up and get it mixed. There are a few songs here that have never seen the light of day, so it will be nice to release some fresh music to folks. However, thoughts linger: does anyone still believe in the “disc/album” format? Singles dominate the horizon, and I understand why. It makes sense. But for me and the band, this whole recording was an effort to capture a very specific time in our lives, and also to try and weave that into a cohesive ethos and approach to a body of work. As much as I like singles and the constant flow of music it can produce, I’m just not sure that you can weave a narrative into 7 – 8 songs that are released over 12 months.

The songs become compartmentalized and fragmented, like our lives. I (and I think Maida Vale) believe in something holistic and big… very big and beautiful.

Hope someone out there can believe in it as well. We’ll see in June, maybe.

2009 Song Assassins

Last year, I started a tradition of listing my annual “Song Assassins.” I through these out on last year’s blog, but I shut that one down, and so I present this year’s selections.

Here’s what this list is not:

  • This list is not the “Best Music of 2009″; there are some 2009 releases here, but there’s some older songs as well
  • This list is not objective; selfishly, these are my highly subjective opinions

Here’s what this list is:

  • These are songs that grabbed my attention, that made me stop what I was doing, and listen, or tap my foot, or marvel at a lyric or a guitar line
  • These are songs that stayed in heavy rotation on my iPod or in my CD player for a few days in a row

With those clarifications, here they are; do yourself a favor and give them a listen.

  • January: “A Break in the Clouds” (The Jayhawks). If you know me at all, you know I’m a huge Jayhawks fan. I think they represent the best in midwestern Americana — great, hymn-inspired harmonies, unpretentious arrangements and musicianship. This is from their release, Smile, which NPR’s Fresh Air once referred to by asking, “What if you made the best record of the year (2000), and no one heard?”
  • February: “Fix It” (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals). Ryan Adams can write a 3 minute song of longing and desire like no one else. When he sings, “I’d fix it if I could”, I believe it. I feel like I’ve spent the last three years of my life trying to write this song; I still haven’t written it.
  • March: “I’m a Man” (Black Strobe). I’m a pretty huge Guy Ritchie fan, and couldn’t wait to see Rocknrolla when it came out on DVD. This song has great imagery behind it in the movie and with the audio here, I just love the attitude–everybody “chunkin” away on that shuffle groove. This is 21st century blues. I think Muddy Waters would be proud.
  • April: “Wake Up” (Arcade Fire). It’s simple: as spring arrives, and it’s possible to drive around with the windows down, who doesn’t want to crank this up and scream “Ohhhhhh Ohhhhhh….” along with this.
  • May: “Palestine, Texas” (T-Bone Burnett). I love almost everything about T-Bone: his producing ethos, his guitar playing, his quirky song-writing. This song is from 2006′s True False Identity, which is an amazing journey of depravity and salvation. What an amazing groove: stand up bass, awesome, “greasy and gritty” guitar sounds… If you like stuff like Buddy and Julie Miller, I think you should give this a listen as well.
  • July: “That’s Not My Name” (The Ting Tings). I was driving through Knoxville, TN late one night, and heard thirty seconds of this song, and I was instantly hooked. The next morning (thanks to Google), I had identified the tune and went in search of it. This song actually swings…hard! — it’s not just mindless pop.
  • October: “Names That Fell” (Zach Williams). I went to a conference for pastors and church leaders in October. Most of the music there was pretty boring and typical — high-powered Coldplay and U2-esque tunes and bands that looked much “too hip” for me — when all of a sudden this guy walks on stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar. Mind you, this wasn’t the typical evangelical acoustic guitar (which is usually either a Taylor cutaway or an $5,000 Breedlove or Nashville-approved custom box); no this was a gritty, songwriter’s guitar: something like this. He also looked like he could’ve walked right off the cover of Big Pink or The Band. Now he had my attention. He sang this song, unaccompanied, and just blew me right away. Such conviction, such simplicity.
  • December: “Staráflur” (Sigur Rós). Years ago, probably in winter 2004, I’d heard enough about “this freaky band who didn’t sing in any known language” that I decided I needed to seek some of their stuff out. I went to the library and found a CD that had song titles I couldn’t read or understand, took it back to the house, and put it in the computer. Sounded nice. Got some tunes onto the iPod — a first gen, mind you!! — and filed it away for “future listening”. One grey day, I’d hopped on the El to go downtown dialed it up. With the grey, snow-blanketed landscape of Chicago forming a backdrop, I had an amazing musical (I daresay, spiritual) experience. This was music at its best: transcendent, emotional, communicative. It took me to the unexplained places in my soul… A few years (and many iPods) later, I’d lost the copies I had, and since their flipping songs aren’t titled in English I couldn’t remember what I’d been listening to that magical winter’s day. This December, I finally found it again. Though “Svefn-G-Englar” was the actual first song I’d heard, this year, this was the song that grabbed me.

So there it is! I hope you enjoy the tunes, and my commentary on them. Sorry there’s no blazing guitar solos, but if you know me at all, you know that those just don’t matter that much. It’s the music that gets ya!

Chicago Drifts Slowly Away

Opened up a Eugene Peterson book tonight, looking for some words to share with my musical worship team, and out popped an Intelligentsia “Buy 9 Drinks, Get the 10th Free” card. It was ironic. I remembered getting that card with a friend of mine almost three years ago when we were at a Willow Creek conference together. At the time, I thought it would just be a matter of time ’til I’d “need” that card again.

Little did I know.

Now, indeed, as the lyrics to the Maida Vale song go, “Chicago drifts slowly away…”

I struggle to embrace my life without sidewalks, without Autumn (I mean, really: you can’t call this Autumn), without the long walks through four neighborhoods, getting the chance to observe lives in microcosm.

I am beginning to doubt my timely return to “home”, and again wonder what to do in exile. Maybe I should take my own advice by way of God and Jeremiah: “Seek the shalom of the city you live in. Settle down; have a family.”

Okay sure, but was Babylon filled with crazy rednecks who were obsessed with college football??!!??

Just kidding. Kind of.

In my darkest moments, I don’t know why I’m here. Nothing “fits” with me here. But this is where I am, and my faith says clearly, “This is not about you. God writes his story everywhere, and your choice is whether or not to be a part of it.”

“Blue”

Girl, I know you’re in need of a hero
But the glory’s never called my name
I huddle at night,
And shy from the light
While Chicago drifts slowly away

And down here on the avenue
Where lovers have waited for years
To come when you call
Put a hand out when you fall
Hiding in phone books that are cloudy with tears

And is your heart blue?
Are you crying?
Girl I’m lonely too
Is your heart blue?

Well you sang your song to the darkness
And the silence just called back your name
Now that lonely song
Holds back the dawn
That can rise up and usher in your day

And girl you know I’m looking for you, girl
Thought I might find you downtown
And your wedding dress
Is stained and torn to shreds
From running ’round with your “other man”

And is your heart blue
Are you lonely
From all the bad times you been through
Is your heart blue

I’ll be your flame
In cold December
You will remain
You will remember our love

Is your heart blue?
Is your heart blue?
Girl I’m lonely too
Is your heart blue…

Just So Everyone Knows…

There is a scene from Thornton Wilder’s play, The Angel That Troubled the Water.  A doctor comes to a healing pool every day wanting to be healed of his melancholy and his gloom and his sadness. Finally the angel appears. The doctor goes to step into the water but the angel blocks his path, saying, “No, step back, the healing is not for you.” The doctor pleads, “But I’ve got to get into the water. I can’t live this way.” The angel says, “No, this moment is not for you.” And he says, “But how can I live this way?”

The angel says to him, “Doctor, without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children of this earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.”

————–

I don’t know why
The angel follows you from so far behind
You say it’s a surprise
Keeps you guessing all of the time

You made a mistake
I can see it written over you face
Tears sketching out the truth of your pain
But I say, it’s alright

You were so good to me
Even angels long to be
Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love

I saw your dress
Saw it hanging on the back of a chair
Oh baby, yeah, I was there
And I guess your virtue ain’t all that it was

You had a good time
Gave your heart to all the valentines
And now I know you might be disinclined to admit
But it felt pretty good

You were so good to me
Even angels long to be
Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love

All the stories in the lonely places
All the songs in the silences
We’re all strong in the broken places
Everybody’s broken on the wheels of love

Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love

From www.maidavalemusic.com

From maidavalemusic.com (eric writing):

Thought I’d give you all an update as to what we’ve been up to. In a sense, it’s been a quiet few months since April: Birmingham, Gainesville, Warehouse, etc.

But just because it’s been quiet doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been productive…

We’ve been laughing a lot.

Exploring space.

Throwing off some creative shackles.

Revisiting old friends.

Not only that, but we’ve been graduating, preparing for weddings, building houses, shipping off our children to other states, shipping off our parents(?) to other states, and in general trying to stay as cool as possible.

These activities — along with the requisite existential meltdowns — have comprised our spring and early summer.

We’ve been using this time to do as much creating as possible given the state of our collective lives. We’re enjoying the process, going down trails that prove to be rabbit holes, following our noses into the deep, preternatural forest then retreating, glad for the bread crumbs we’ve dropped along the way.

New | old colors and tools are beginning to find their way onto our pallet. Names like Marvin and T-Bone, Motown and Jagger/Richards are being referenced. Words and phrases like, “Use the 57”; “Neve”; “Warmer” and “Spirit” are finding their way into our lexicon.

I daresay, we’re making the most exciting music of our lives.

Who knows what will emerge from this cocoon, but I think we’re learning about each other, and we’re becoming better friends, artists, and pilgrims. Right now our plan is to release some of this music in the near future, but we’re not putting deadlines on this process; it’s too precious for that.

We are planning some live shows in August and September, and we think that we’ll all enjoy getting to know each other again.

In the meantime, feel free to continue to spread the word, hook folks up to MySpace and Twitter.

We promise to let you know when the cocoon opens…

Welcome…

So Here I begin anew… 

Let’s begin with something simple, shall we? How about gear? 

I’ve been on a bit of a “binge” lately — playing music for a living (at least somewhat) has its perqs. I’ve been playing with mostly the same set of pedals for years now, only switching out the occasional overdrive or fuzz unit. 

Over the past few weeks, though, I’ve bought four new pedals (which is a lot for me). Not to get all metaphysical or anything, but I wonder if it’s somewhat related to needing some inspiration, seeking it through technology. Positioning myself for the next musical/artistic “season” that is coming.

So here’s what I bought:

  • I started with the Fulltone Supa-Trem. I love Fulltone pedals; they’re made well, are “specialized” and simple to operate. I was having some problems with the trem I was using (through my Modulation Modeler), and when I read that T-Bone Burnett used the Supa-Trem almost exclusively, I was sold. Got it on Ebay.
  • Then I moved to the BBE Mindbender. I don’t use chorus or flanging, but I am addicted to pitch vibrato, and this was the only viable option available. Set this thing up to “wiggle”, then add some delay, and you get some nice modulations and swirls that are more organic and earthy-sounding. 
  • I got curious one night on E-bay, and started looking at Xotic Pedals. I thought the AC Booster might be a cool option for overdrive sounds. Guess what: It is. I’ve only had the pedal for 2 days, but it is a nice boost/OD pedal that sounds really natural, while still having EQ options. I got this for a really good price off of eBay.
  • Lastly, I am waiting on the arrival of a Voodoo Labs Microvibe. I’ve been a sucker for vibe sounds for a while. There’s definitely a psychedelic rocker inside of me still, and the swirling of a Univibe just sounds so “chunky”. Again, I had my Modulation Modeler set up for a Univibe sound, but it just wasn’t that convincing. I’d owned one of these pedals in the past, and I know that they are reliable and good quality. Got a really good price. 

I think mostly these are to help me go into the future. I’m coming off of a LONG season of basically needing flexibility from my rig. Now I think I have the blessing of being able to be more choosy and particular about the music I play, so I’m assembling tools that reflect that. 

Alright, well, we are now officially in a relationship. I promise not to be so geeky in the future. Or rather, I will remain geeky, but hopefully my geekiness will touch more people in more ways… Cuz touching people is fun (when it’s not creepy).