It’s right there. The ending. But I can’t get it. Continue reading
Travis from my label Last Chance Records asked me for some kind of bio, something to give to radio people or newspaper or blog folks, some interesting springboard that will get the journalist’s keys clacking. I genuinely hate writing a traditional bio: what bands did you play in, when did you form, who are your influences, what do you sound like, what three adjectives can best describe your music. It’s like your boss asking you to write an essay about ‘Why you like your job’ while summing up your life’s story in two lousy paragraphs. Continue reading
The Five Fifths Sundown, USA is dedicated to Cecilia Wren, Westley Francis and Emmons Meyer, the three babies born during its production. As I write this, Travis of Last Chance Records is preparing for the birth of his first child, Sundown’s fourth.
That album is also dedicated to my friend Niko Harlan who passed away in the final weeks of its production after courageously battling a brain tumor for the better part of ten years. Niko was a huge fan of many of the bands in the local scene. In April, Chris Tamplin, a local show promoter, had a benefit show in memoriam. A few weeks after, Chris called me up: Continue reading
I suppose I could’ve just not done it. I guess I could’ve released Wes’s Version 1.0 but that is not a fully realized separate work. It was originally orchestrated and arranged as a demo for the band. Treating the solo version as a demo would cheat myself out of hours of all that wonderful emptiness, anger, disappointment, frustration and sorrow that always arises in my process of creating art. Continue reading
While The Five Fifths version was being rehearsed, Wes and I discussed the solo album. He thought it would neat be to have my wife document the process on video. She’s worked on documentaries for years and was excited about the idea, imagining the album being part of a larger process that could involve Wes’s fascinating vinyl lathe cutting business. A From-Farm-to-Table-of-Music so to speak. I then spoke about setting a few dates to rerecord the solo version. Continue reading
Other than recording on a cantankerous fourteen year-old computer, recording The Five Fifths version of Sundown, USA in Donald’s house went surprisingly without many hitches. Donald was great to work with, excitable and encouraging. We worked at a brisk clip. He pushed when he needed to and allowed himself to be pushed as well. It’s what great collaboration is about. In addition to working the musical arts, he’s a professional chef and he describes his recording process like he’s hosting a cooking show, molding his hands together, taking a sip of wine: ‘Now what I’m gonna do is just let that drum line sit there for a minute while we work on these guitars’. Stiring, slowly stiring. Continue reading
I was getting stronger and feeling better, slowly putting the weight back on. Within a month, The Five Fifths would proceed with fleshing out the material, figuring the arrangement and orchestration. Unfortunately we would be proceeding without two of our Fifths: Patrick and Elysse. As I remarked before, bands are tough to keep together these days. The Big Break that allows a band to possibly do this for a living supposedly still happens but I think that those Big Breaks are Mostly Bullshit anyway. Bands depend on momentum, on the creative flow to get us from one lousy ebb to the other. Continue reading
I was too weak to drive the 400 miles from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. My wife had to fly in to drive our car and me back home. In those twenty days, I lost fifteen pounds. I had shrunk a pant size, my denims so baggy that my first order of business was to go to the department store and buy a new pair. I had lost so much weight that I had to embarrassingly get them in the Young Men’s Department. Continue reading
Pap owned a Chrysler ever since I was young. Twenty years later as I sat on his porch still sick but clearly healing I can still see the car parked out front, getting ready to go to take him to the racetrack. The Reliant. Glacier Blue Crystal Coat. We got along, he and I. Except that one time, when I didn’t buy a Chrysler. He gave me a look, rather he put his head down and gave the porch floor every ounce of his sadness, disappointment and disgust. Continue reading
I was weak, illness still unknown, bored by television, irritated by life-long, seemingly bad career choices and I was now depressed. The production of my album with The Fifths postponed indefinitely, an album about people at the end of their rope. Fitting then I felt at the end of mine. I made only a few calls to friends or band mates back home. Couldn’t talk, didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to think. Didn’t want to come up with a damn plan. Seems most plans that I came up with fell through the third, second, first then basement floors anyway so…who cares? It wasn’t an opportune time for Wes to send me our recordings. I was vulnerable in every sense. Continue reading
‘No account of music in Detroit would be complete without the sound of Motown. In 1959, a young black man, Berry Gordy, Jr. borrowed $800 from his family and founded the Motown Record Corporation. Located in a house on West Grand Boulevard, Motown began as one of a number of small rhythm and blues record companies which sprang up in Detroit during the 1950’s, partly in response to a demand for such music by black-oriented radio stations. Continue reading
So, I’m out of books. Can’t play music and I’m anxiously waiting for Wes’s mix to brighten me up. My Dad comes often to sit me up and to help me sip water. He tells me about his day at work. For the past forty something years, my Father has worked in a steel mill. It’s not just an occupation or work or a profession. My Dad is the kind of guy that I think secretly hopes they ask him to work overtime. The job is him. He’s lots of other things too but to me it’s such a part of his identity. He complains about the job sometimes. He loves the work. Doesn’t always like the job. Like all of us. Continue reading
The other book that I brought for the trip was Keith Richards’ Life. What a Candy Store that guy owns! Sheezus! Keith goes through all these stories, the ups and downs, the playing for tens of thousands, the crazy road life, the parties, the cops, the dope, his idols, the celebrities, more dope, the fast cars, the house in the Tropics, the working vacations in France and I’m thinking ‘Some life this guy has lived’. Continue reading
What to do? I brought two books with me on tour, one of them Bob Dylan The Essential Interviews. I like Bob Dylan as much as the next joker with a guitar. He’s got good songs and bad. Good albums and bad. Good eras and bad. Don’t we all? I finished that book back in Toronto. Then there’s the Rolling Stone with Bob Dylan on the cover that I bought back in Rochester. It’s Hilarious. Weird. Hilariously weird. Guy’s been doing this rock and roll thing a while now, fifty years at least. It’s a good read but I wasn’t willing to read through it twice quite yet. Continue reading
If I’d take a poll, I imagine all of us spend most of our days hoping for the best. Most of us split all that Hopin’ Time with other things like working or changing diapers or clearing out the gutters or shopping or whatever. This was a little different than my normal in-the-back-of-my-mind ‘hoping for the best’ routine. I was far from catatonic but got out of breath walking up the stairs. I couldn’t talk. Couldn’t eat. I tried to rest as much as I could but ironically even that gets tiring. All I could do was lie there and hope. Continue reading
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Something strange was going on with this tour. Something odd in the air in every city. Something was off with the promoters or with the other bands or with the venue. Downright bizarre shit. Continue reading
I listened back to my home tapes and I thought it was good…good enough for the band but certainly not good enough to release. My timing is way off, speeding up and speeding down. It’s easy to tap your toe in time to the radio. By yourself to your own rhythm? For three and a half minutes? Can be tough. I tend to speed up during choruses of songs. Hell I tend to speed up during the course of the whole song. Lyrics are fumbled. Mumbled. Notes flat. Sharp. Every angle in between. Continue reading
I live in North Carolina. I certainly don’t make near what anyone in a First or Second World Country would consider ‘a living’ playing music so I have to vary it up a bit. Substitute teacher. Ebayer. Home remodeler. A few years ago I bought a house in foreclosure downtown. Nice neighbors but not quite a nice neighborhood. It and twenty others were built in the early 1900’s as a company house for the Pearl Cotton Mill Village. You ever hear the phrase ‘good bones’ when referring to a house? Well, this one ain’t the house they’re referring to. It wasn’t a fixer-upper but a tearer-downer. Continue reading
A week later, I went to Wes’s and interrupted a vinyl run. Wes has a vinyl lathe business, cutting vinyl records in his living room. It’s a fascinating process to witness. After some pleasantries and explanations of technical things that I will never absorb or understand, Wes gave me back my cassettes in a plastic bag. In his hand he held a CD, the digital copy of those analog tapes, and waved them in the air like he’s rapping lightly on my front door with it Continue reading
I had a self-imposed timetable.
It was July at the time and the presidential election of 2012 was coming up in a few months. I wanted to maintain an aggressive schedule and have this album out on that November’s first Tuesday, Election Day. This Detroit Album isn’t overtly political but I thought about the common thread on the songs: people who are at the end of their rope. A few of these people are perhaps where they are because of their own choices. But just like most of us, there are outside forces that affect who we are and where we are going. Continue reading
We came back home after that seventeen-day tour and I made my first executive decision concerning The Detroit Album: do not record the demos on a computer. I need to work very quickly and the computer can bog me down in this nascent phase with lots of options, lots of effects and lots of loops. I have neither the artistic confidence nor the strong will to resist those modern wares. Continue reading
Those Canadian dates went well, we had a good response and sold enough CD’s that even though it was only June, we should start booking a return September tour. Booking is long three-month minimum process. After a few days in Canada, we re-entered the United States at the Detroit Checkpoint. Continue reading
JKutchma & The Five Fifths embarked on our first ‘international’ tour to Canada promoting our debut album Pastoral, traveling in Townes Van Vandt, my 1989 primer gray 15-seat passenger Dodge. The Five Fifths: Patrick O’Neill on keys, Steve Oliva on bass, Evan Rowe on drums and Elysse Thebner on guitar. We were attempting to enter Canada above Plattsburgh, NY to play a handful of dates from Montreal to Toronto. We planned to re-enter the states in Detroit to play four shows around Michigan. Continue reading