The Quest For Real Country Music

Archive for February, 2017

How to Enjoy The Grind – A Quick Guide To Being An Intradependent Musician

February 23rd 2017 2:24 pm

The Art of the Intradependent Musician is the art of focus.

Last fall I was lent (which I’ve yet to return) a book from my friend, Mike Dawson. In it, author Stephen Witt exposes the history of the mp3 and the subculture that led to the fiscal demise of the music industry as we knew it – that, or levelled the playing field for all of us. It begins with the German innovation of Karlheinz Brandenburg and his persistence in the field of psychoacoustics to develop an audio encoding format for digital audio whose file size is reduced all while generally upholding sound quality. Passionate audiophiles would argue my usage of the word quality but we’d agree on the format’s accessibility, one which fed the ego of North Carolinian, Dell Glover. From his production line post at PolyGram in Shelby, North Carolina, he smuggled over 2000 unreleased albums and distributed them over the net; motivated by the fulfillment of being the first. How Music Got Free kept me immersed for as quickly as I could read it and left me somewhere between disgusted and grateful.

Around the same time I was training my fingers to gracefully move between a G and D chord, I was stealing acoustic versions of “Meet Virginia” by Train, “Lightning Crashes” by Live and “Tangerine” by Moist with a dial-up internet connection and an elementary understanding of file sharing. This conditioning that music was free, influenced my mindset as an independent musician from its infancy – ironic that I made a respectable living depending on the door-to-door sales of my art.

To balance out my mp3 collection of Vancouver’s Moist, I purchased guitarist, Mark Makoway’s Indie Band Bible and to this day refer to it as a primary reference for everything DIY. Slightly dated, it continues to root me in my early innocent perspective and remind me that my generation of musician’s greatest leverage is hard work. The risk is in being left behind by those that have embraced smart work.

With the sole consideration of sales based on interactions, it asks the question of what type of interaction is needed in order to solidify a sale. This alone is enough to mentally break you, questioning why one should tour if a well crafted tweet can garner a similar end result. These desires to adapt have opened the door for opportunists to offer their “services” in music consultation focusing on how to build followers, or more trendily said, a Tribe. “Gurus” that have never picked up a musical instrument study social media trends and capitalize on the frustrations of the road-worn songwriter whom looks for an alternative to playing empty clubs, or at the very least, another avenue into filling those clubs. But between finding your way onto a Spotify playlist, the correct way to label a YouTube video, creating a Facebook geomarketing campaign and creating viral content we face our frustrations, insecurities, and disappointments when if not managed properly result in complacency and a loss of motivation.

All thanks to the mp3.

My partner (and a fellow songwriter) replaced my word usage in conversation one time from “Independent” to “Intradependent” allowing my thoughts to include the importance of community in what we do. As the cliché states: the sky is big enough for all the stars.

It’s overwhelming what is encompassed by the job title as Intradependent Musician and although many with full teams would consider themselves independent, I would like to focus on the one artist balancing administrative responsibilities while working away at getting creative content out to the world. Outside of my personal bias on the importance of consistent touring and band rehearsals, a workload is a workload and personal achievements are personal achievements regardless of how a fanbase is built. Over the years of sussing out these frustrations, banging my head against the wall, and wondering when something is going to catch, I’ve found peace and empowerment through a few tactics and core beliefs that have let me let go of the end result and truly enjoy the grind.

  1. Commitment to the long game – I’m allowed to pick up side jobs, focus on other creative outlets and take a well deserved hiatus. In the words of my dear friend Del Barber; “you’d better do something other than write songs because nobody wants to hear songs about writing songs.”  If years pass between releasing albums, nobody actually cares – and when you do have content ready for release, don’t just put it out for the sake of getting it out. Slow up and know that at 80 years old it will still be a part of your identity to create and hopefully when looking back, your identity is synonymous with quality.
  2. Express Gratitude – Remind yourself that your privilege allows you the opportunity to be working as a musician. It’s a pretty incredible blessing when your biggest stress is not having replied to an email, a grant deadline is coming up, or you need to fill a Tuesday night slot in Edmonton. Take a step back and recognize that The Universe handed you a golden ticket.
  3. Recognize Your Privilege – Have a fucking purpose. Nobody gives a shit that you can sing and play the guitar unless it is for a greater good. I’m not saying get political with your message (although I strongly support the initiative) but have a reason that you need to get your message to the masses. The fact that you can get up in the morning and do this without any persecution comes with the responsibility to better the lives of others.
  4. Empower Community – You belong to many of them from local to international. By taking it upon yourself to build your fellow artists, you strengthen your support system and the foundation from which your message comes. It’s infectious. Soon scenes rise from countries, not just artists from scenes. This extends into sharing your successes – we are all going to get to where we need to be, if chance or opportunity comes your way bring your friends and community with you. Collaborate.
  5. Abolish Jealousy – Hard feelings are the quickest way to take yourself out of the game. If a fellow musician has found a team that is fulfilling what you would perceive as your own dreams, be a part of that team, champion their successes and assist with launching them to the top – no matter how small your efforts may be.
  6. Self-forgiveness – You are going to have wasted days, make bad decisions, quit creating, feel jealous, take instead of give, etc. Let all that shit go. It happens. I find reading resets my creative compass. Commit to one well crafted thought at a time – if this means a sentence in an email or the line of a song, it’s the best way back into a good headspace.
  7. Maintain a Conscious Guard – We are inundated with garbage content via social media, uneducated opinions and false expectations – know what to filter out. Put your phone down and insist that whatever venue you are playing in shut the fucking TV’s off while you perform. You are the human connection to people’s own emotions, if you can’t detach, good luck getting others to.
  8. Create Quality Content – You will recognize this is being done when creating gets difficult and you find yourself using your craftsmanship in your art as much as being inspired (if not more). You are sharpening your tools and becoming the best of the best. Have the long term goal of becoming a legacy artist. Always, at all cost, create for your art to outlast you.
  9. Set Your Parameters – What are you willing to compromise? If you wouldn’t take ten dollars to represent something, don’t take three thousand. You are defined by what you turn down. Don’t let yourself be bought.
  10. Release Expectations – My favourite Ray Wylie Hubbard song says “…and the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, Well, I have really good days.” Your career is going to play out in spite of your expectations – awards don’t matter, hits don’t matter. All you can control is the quality of your art – this is all that matters. The rest falls into place.
  11. Be Epic – Risk it all. Put the eggs into the basket that you control the results of. Money comes and goes, it’s easy to make with a little hustle. Go with your crazy ideas and stand by them. Put it all on the line, unapologetically. Carry a sword and fuck shit up. Do it.

Focus, one thing at a time and enjoy the grind. We’re pretty lucky to be doing this.

III-7. Reuben Bidez – The Twelve-String Chevalier

February 11th 2017 10:30 am

As a basement is expected, it’s at the bottom. An entrance off the back end of the Grimey’s record store. I deke through smokers with my best of manners catching looks like I clearly am not from the scene. My most comfortable outfit completed with a silk neckerchief tied in a stereotypical wild west fashion, triangular and loose, relaxed until I need to save my face from a rolling dust storm. An ascot as my urban contemporaries have called it. I would have taken the brown accessories a little too far if it wasn’t for Marshall stopping me on my way out the door to suggest my silverbelly hat – “white” in his words – would look like I’m not trying as hard. So I swap my old brown felt for the sweat stained Resistol.

It is getting pretty worn. My father, a creature of habit, had a couple easy years with Christmas shopping alternating my gifts between boots and hats. I wore my brother’s old Stetson before my dad filled my ego with how good I would look in a one of my own. Brand new and classy. A habit of taking it off my head by squeezing the curve in on itself has weakened the crease to a tear, leaving it look like a lobe whose earring was forcefully torn out. When I would once place it on a random child’s head if caught staring, I now resist for hygienic-sake.

I meet Easton as we simultaneously pass through the entrance. He is in pre-performance mode, his hand on my shoulder as a greeting, looking back to point at the doorman with a “he’s good”. Industry slang for “this cat pays nothing and can walk right in”. There’s no line-up so I don’t battle with the special treatment as much but still flip-flop between the guilt of not paying and the appreciation of saving the money.

The entry lit, merchandise to the left displayed out of suitcases. A typical collection of shirts and vinyl, the latter propped up inside the opened lid. In it’s base, jewel cases. Compact discs still fighting the good fight for their place as a recognized medium. I’m confused by some attendees motives when coming to a merchandise table to ask if they can buy our music online. It warrants a slap. The inquiry itself offensive to question our worth in today’s digital age but it’s also obvious lip-service, unable to summon expressing their enjoyment of the show paired with the confidence of choosing to not buy a record. A purchase never expected, it still creates an awkward evident answer. I’m going to begin approaching this issue aggressively by requesting their phone, opening iTunes and purchasing it on the spot for them – smiling the whole time as if I’m saving them the difficulty.

A lit up vintage sign glows over the table, split into three separate sections of design. The left square as the main advertisement; “Falls City Beer” – “Pick a City”. The middle in a frosty cartoonish font; “COLD BEER”. The right, a picture of two mugs of the Kentucky pale ale…assuming. I walk through the brick archway into the second opening. With a capacity of two hundred, a quarter of that would make the room seem filled. I tremble a Coors Banquet tallboy can to establish whether the empty table is reserved or not, its empty so I turn the chair ninety degrees, face the stage and sit.

An earlier performance is clearing props, a megaphone and numerous blanks picket signs. The larger of the two men lift a 4×12 bass cabinet alone and walks it out the door, a rear suspender clip letting loose. The back left corner of the stage has my detested icicle lights in their usual twist and a disco ball hanging. Knick-knacks as part of a honky-tonks identity, I have no choice but to forgive them both. The stripping of the stage is shared by inhabiters with opposite intent. One placing symbols on the house kits and the other playing passing chords on an unidentifiable twelve-string acoustic while running vocal scales into the microphone. He interrupts his melodies with the predisposed, “ch-ch” and “ah, yah, yeeah”. A keen ear, picking up on a feedback in his high register.

Reuben Bidez is denim clad and lean. His lengthy brown hair and fine pencilled moustache lend to a knight-like image, a travelling court troubadour with his instrument – the doubled strings giving a chorus effect. He has a noble approach to his crowd, appreciative of all and softly spoken to, recognizing them amidst the continued effort to locate the rogue frequency. He opens up as a Soprano to expose the squeal and the sound-tech snags it at 10-20 kHz.

A microphone’s intimate nature makes it a quick contaminant. If shared, like unprotected sex, a herpes virus can nestle itself in the moist metal cross-stitching and leave it as communally filthy as the plastic couch cover at a swinger’s party. A history of lovers left to dry on the mouthpiece. A vocalist should be rigorous in replacing house microphones with their own at the very least to avoid catching the sniffles. Bidez is left with no choice but to request a swap urging the sound-tech to smell it. Knowing better, Bidez’s word is taken and a clean Shure 58 is granted.

He’s left alone at the front of the room with a posture that soothes the chatter.

An opening slot treated like a laboratory, its semi-controlled setting allowing for experiment. Bidez takes advantage of the opportunity by sharing his intent. In his rawest form he’s supporting the release of a record but not balking from unrecorded material beginning.

“It’s always easy to blame someone for running around,” a precursor to the first song of the evening, “Lily”.

Bidez is a folk singer at its truest. Comfortable with his autonomy and well versed. He conveys a clear message in and around the material with a voice that cuts. His modest demeanour is enduring and treble dominated range, captivating. As I’ve discovered the strengths of my own voice I’ve come to favour a more talking based lyrical execution, but Bidez beautifully sings in a range unique to him alone. His guitar creates a pad that further adds to the allure and is well rehearsed. He writes at times through obscure structural decisions but ties them together with the usage of repetition. An audience comfortable with verbally complimenting his abilities outside of applause.

Bidez commends the room, “When you show up on time, the musicians play on time and everybody can be home on time.”

He offers mutual respect and directs our attention under the Falls City Beer sign where his debut record is available, “next to all twenty of Tim Easton’s albums,” he exaggerates.

Bidez’s confidence shines with a third unknown song, acknowledging the frustrations of the masses. His “American Dream” is acerbic. He patronizes the rat race and modern complacency. The mutiny in his content is being heard and with the chance one listener is questioning their own perspective, Bidez has a successful evening. In his own words he is a vulnerable young man with a voice. One which I see the importance in as he concludes his stand with a message of hope.

The New Revivalist will influence through grace. The beginning stages of this revolution has individuals embracing their weaknesses and exposing them as an offering to kinship. A sense of compassion will draw opposing sides closer to the chance of an effective interaction – seeing their problems as similar and the solution by uniting.

Tonight Reuben Bidez initiated that shift. He softens guards through humour and allows his listeners to open up. His art form is disciplined and acts as a well crafted vehicle for change. An emotional connection through his material that was hailed by American Songwriter magazine as “treds in a vulnerable direction with a rich soulful sound” and The Repertoire adds “[Bidez] channels a certain natural memoir of a 1970’s songwriter while pushing the bounds of conventional rhapsody and inventing “counter-culture” music.”

Counter-culture music. That which will motivate acceptance and indoctrinate a more tolerant set of beliefs.

Bidez is on the forefront of our movement.

III-6. Meeting Gillian Welch & The Appreciation for a Good Body High

February 10th 2017 2:39 pm

Gillian is benevolent.

I back away from the opening door, her cheeks raise to moon the bottoms of her eyelids as her mouth breaks. Her smile takes me to promotional shots seen throughout the years and I am struck. Wireless glasses and silver hair pulled into a loose ponytail. She’s casually dressed, I have interrupted her at home. Her hands cool as my misplaced handshake grasps early, softly holding just her fingers. The mistake seems intentional as one would never show a matriarch aggression. I disclose my citizenship, indulge her on small details of my return visit to her city, and reveal curiosity as the reason I am at her step. Our exchange is cordial and fluent. I articulate my writing desires and express appreciation for her art. Without my suggestion, she regrets a tour of the studio as they are in session. There is a mutual appreciation for our encounter and I am directed to follow up. I naturally bow with my hands together and walk backwards off the couple steps.

I am overwhelmed and show my gratitude, jumping between talking to myself and a greater architect. Hunter’s Custom Automotive industrial-sequence sign catches the late afternoon sun like some digital effect, more sparkle than ever as I cross the street. Westward up the Main Street hill. The downtown core begins to light up, notably the ears of the Batman Building, colloquially referred to opposing its official AT&T corporate title. An addition to the visual that inspired Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album. Its ears stretching past its architectural compeers, The William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower and the once tallest, Fifth Third Center.

A humid chill goes through my jean jacket, my ignorance to anticipation of Tennessee’s winter. Walking past Koi Sushi I bristle whatever body hair I have and pull my coat to cover the back of my neck. Usually slung over a shoulder, my side-satchel swung around in-front of my groin, its weight locking the back of my collar up and slightly pulling me forward in an effort to speed my step. I break gate and scamper up to Mcferrin Avenue. A new condominium welcoming me back into my neighbourhood, its modernism. The complex’s name with that musical/historical association Welch has recognized; Amplify On Main, 1 & 2 bedrooms, now leasing. My wrists starting to stiffen, unable to push deeper into my pockets and my shoulders hunched as I make it under the threading of electrical lines and up to Ross Early Learning Center. Two years old, the brick building educating the children of the areas long time and newly incorporated residents.

West on Marina Street. Shacks being stripped and renovated. No trespassing signs. Portable basketball hoops, gutter garbage and a take-a-book/leave-a-book literature exchange – nothing of interest, glancing as I hurry down the hill. An indecisive rain feeling out its release with the odd pelt against the back of my hairline, my head tucked down exposing the space from under the rear brim of my felt cowboy hat. As our front door is rarely entered, I run around to the rear of the house as the weather makes its decision just in time for me to save myself. The mile walk, to be better prepared for.

The boys are playing with a taser, given as a family Christmas gift. A lighthearted argument over the degree of pain it would inflict with the odd joust as one would put a dead mouse in another’s face. “I’ve been tazed before, bro – it’s not that bad.” Its staccato’d cracks of blue. I continue as I were, a quick shower to bring up my body temperature, my jean jacket in the dryer. I return to the kitchen. the remnants of a pretty heater bong rip blown out the side door and a quick discussion about “premium Tennessee kush”. Enticing.

I’m still working out marijuana’s place in my life having not touched it for over a year, the odd cheat by breathing deeply in its burning presence. As I have seen my writing progress without it, I am curious as to its effect now on my creative self. Alcohol has been relatively easy to withstand, the physical habit of a drink in hand as hard a battle as any. But the movement of consciousness and certain paths opening through a little grass – I have yet to find an alternative. Marshal offers me a brownie, downing two himself. I accept and place it by my computer.

A body high to be properly chosen. My usual mistake, conditioned by smoking, unable to properly estimate length of time before it “kicks in”.

A couple years back.

“I don’t think they’re that strong, Trav” – “Hmm, I agree. Its been an hour.” – “Another?” – “Sure.” Fifteen minutes later. “Yeah, still nothing.” – “Fuck it, let’s go for toke outside.”

Five minutes later to myself: “Alright Blake, you know that you have arms, think this one through” – completely locked into the couch, feet up with my hands behind my head, out of vision.

I had my wisdom teeth removed in late October 2015; the height of my usage. At all cost to avoid dry sockets, I abstained for two weeks and fought the addiction of the euphoria. I made myself a batch of tea while on the fence of attending a seminar one night on “live performance”, Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method presented by our provincial music support system; SaskMusic. The science understood but never having actually making a batch, I concoct a tea recipe by boiling down some shake with a little butter and milk into a creamy skim of liquid at the bottom of a pot – the THC binding to the dairy’s fat molecules. The potion added to a Contigo mug of hot water, peppermint tea and a touch of honey, I decide to make my way across town to the seminar.

Jackson pushing why bands should choreograph their movements and me, paranoid that I might be called upon in front of my peers. Him, teaching big arms movements and shaping the flow of the show. Me, imagining my head attached to my body without a neck and getting the giggles – grateful that I happen to be sitting beside my publicist at the small chance of a public and professional trainwreck.

Time and Place. Allow an hour and a half to process. Stay at home, watch Frank Zappa DVDs.

I leave the brownie and drive down to 8th Avenue South with time to spare before Easton’s show. I’m in no rush to make sure I get in as he offered to leave my name at the door to ensure my entry.

The Basement shares its home with Grimey’s Record Store. One to the rear and the other to the building’s face, respectively. Grimey’s Too – next door. The brands expansion to house more tangible media in a shared space with Howlin’ Books and The Frothy Monkey Coffeehouse. With an up to date collection of today’s musical literature, Howlin’ Books holds the preloved as well.

To insure my growth, I have assembled a mental list of literary treasures that I am on the continuous hunt for. I refuse to dive into the Game of Thrones craze before finding it’s first edition hard cover used, a handful of philosophy and poetry works share the list. The Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Unancestral Voice by Owen Barfield and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Admittedly, all caucasian males with an unnerving view of women. However, my recent interest in Gloria Steinem has me asking for help from a shaggy-headed employee.

ZZ Top’s “La Grange” pounds on the in-house system, distracting us both. I’m led to a Steinem biography I already own and my help confesses his love for the Texas trio. I make my way to a back room as Billy Gibbons’ eighth note intervals broaden post solo and lead back into Frank Beard on the snare rim. The riff softens, a syncopated snare fill and Dusty Hill kicks back in to fill the iconic groove. I shuffle into the spiritual section and find some C.S. Lewis, Gibbons’ pick squeals moving on every quarter note. As the track fades I find Mere Christianity, reading the first three pages in the silence that fills the last five minutes of everyone’s workday.

III-5. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – The Godparents of The New Revivalists

February 9th 2017 4:20 pm

Divinity encompasses her presence.

Driven by the desire to be in a songwriter’s town, Welch moved from Boston, as a Berkley Alumni, to Music City in the summer of ’92. As everyone shares a story of when they first move to town, the commonality creates the “pay it forward” approach knitting the scene together. Welch’s first apartment found through the help of Nanci Griffith back up singer, Lee Satterfield. Rhode Island native and School of Music mate, David Rawlings, followed suit.

The decent into the depths of the songwriter’s circles had the duo being further invited to share stages. Songwriter best known for Garth Brooks’ “The Dance”, Tony Frata, fostered them into the Nashville rite of passage of performing at Douglas Corner Cafe and soon the opportunities were presented. Gillian Welch, the duo comprised of herself and Rawlings, would sing of suppression and sorrow – staying in town as direct support for Townes Van Zandt, going out of town with Guy Clark. Coming into the feed of the New Traditionalist movement, Steve Earle established. Stuart, Strait, Travis, Gill, Carpenter and Judd.

An evening on 12th Avenue sparked the professional relationship between Gillian Welch and producer, T Bone Burnett. Badgered by industry to drop Rawlings from her project, Burnett shared in Welch’s vision and Rawlings’ worth, producing the team’s minimalist masterpiece. Their 1996 debut attracted the attention of The Recording Academy, being nominated for The Best Contemporary Folk Album.

Revival stands like a rural American silo. Welch’s epiphanic moment of first hearing The Stanley Brothers as its seed, Burnett’s vast knowledge of American music manifests a Modern Classic. Her voice adopting the oppression of the time when Rawling’s 1935 Epiphone Olympic sold new for thirty-five dollars. His harmony first heard with the line “I have no mother, no father…I am an orphan girl” and his affordable primary instrument securing its seat in sonic history. The collaborative trio continued. Hell Among The Yearlings was followed by Welch acting as associate producer to the award winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Her brand embedded in bluegrass, Appalachian and traditional/roots country communities but not without pushback, challenged on her urban California upbringing. Innovative but never to bastardize, Welch annihilates criticisms by abounding artistic quality. Her sound. Their sound.

David Rawlings on the front line of American Primitivism. A brother to the neotraditionalist and a guardian at the gates of twang. His David Rawlings Machine yet to come in the wake of his counterparts ongoing success. The inverted line-up will include a tightened circle of contributors – Connor Oberst, Neil Young, Ryan Adams. He reciprocates by lending his abilities to Adams’ Heartbreaker and Oberst’s Cassadaga. As an honorary member of the energetic Old Crow Medicine Show he hones traditionalist values and produces Gillian Welch’s third record from a similar Burnett palette. It flows with dark themes and mountain music stylings garnering the unit another Grammy nomination in the same category as their debut.

…Revelator is their most genuine reflection of their time in Nashville, 9 years. From the Silver Dollar Saloon and the Station Inn to The Grand Ole Opry and The Ryman Auditorium – the city’s foreboding yet affectionate influence. Its paradoxical desire to modernize itself through its history – one only to come at the expense of the other. Welch and Rawlings living through its nights, awake at its earliest hours and isolated by it. They continued to tour, leaving Nashville to experience another type of solitude – The Road.

Welch released …Revelator on their newly independent venture, Acony Records – named after the Acony Bell flower and her song of the same name. This, due to Universal Music Group purchasing her L.A. based label, Almo Sounds.

The historic RCA Studio B created Nashville’s iconic sound but following its hay-day with Chet Atkins now sits as nothing more than a space. One that David Rawlings takes over at a monthly rate treated as a donation to The Country Music Hall of Fame in their building of a new facility. Moving in home studio gear and giving the original plate reverb chambers an overhaul, the record was made in five weeks. Rawlings and Welch keeping one of their first three takes of each song, two and a half feet from each other allowing microphones to bleed and instinct to guide. The mastering of the record skips adjustments on compression or EQ-ing and goes straight to transfer through a clean signal chain.

Their “hands on” methods motivated a purchase of a more definitive home.

Woodland Studios survived closures and tornados and sits like a castle on Nashville’s east side with its asphalt moat. Main entrance off the west parking lot, its south door displaying the Acony Bell logo. They reversed the 90’s contemporary sound modifications and revitalized the tone with linoleum floor and acoustic tiles. The room being an active ingredient in records to come: Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, Gillian Welch’s Soul Journey, Robyn Hitchcock’s Spooked and Rawling’s debut Friend of a Friend.

8 years pass and the popularity of an alternative to the alternative sees young faces replace The New Traditionalist Movement. Nashville’s Substance Recession has shown its head. Goofy theatrics replace time-honoured geographical influence with zero regard. Content like fodder, one dimensional and offensive. Country Music in a blanketed sense gives sky rocketing financial returns but blasphemously melds all into an encompassing “monogenre”, as labelled by the resistance efforts of Saving Country Music’s “Triggerman”. The popular blogs sole contributor acting as the first line of defence and empowering the successors that value Country Music’s traditional core. The one’s learning their craft citing Rawlings and Welch’s impact and acknowledging the duo’s timing – aged enough to brag connection to Van Zandt, moulded by Burnett and innovators in the do-it-yourself indie age. If Earle was in Nashville to aid the New Traditionalist Movement, then Rawlings and Welch came at a time to god-parent one of their own.

With ever increasing anticipation, The Harrow & The Harvest signals the turning of the tide. Independently released, it achieves modernism and lore. “The Way…”, beginning three separate track titles give a sense of forgiveness through acceptance. The idea that passivity trumps aggression. The album title signifying a complete journey – preparation for seed and reaping of labour. An epic of their own movement to come.


1973’s Tom Wolfe classic, The New Journalism states nonfiction as “the most important literature being written in America today.” A declaration of Truth. This rallied a breed of journalists, guerilla in their approach. Narrative and methodological, the conveyers immersing themselves in the stories of others, applauding social realism. From this method came an evolved version decades later coined by Robert S. Boynten as “The New New Journalism”. Its disciples addressing social and political concerns. Boynten calls them “rigorously reported, psychologically astute, sociologically sophisticated, and politically aware”. Continues, “‘New New Journalism’ may well be the most popular and influential development in the history of American literary non-fiction.”

With similar attributes, today’s Real Country Music artists see their pivotal roles in today’s social influence. Bearing the stories of the suppressed and extending their necks at the risk of persecution. They honour their predecessors in message and traditionalisms.

At the risk of replication those artists could be identified in Boynten fashion, as “The New New Traditionalists” but in honour to the Godparents of their movement, “The New Revivalists” rings truer by definition.

…And here I stand in the presence of their royalty.

III-4. The Gentrification of East Nashville

February 8th 2017 9:22 am

Robyn Hitchcock has successfully flown under my radar for 33 years.

How I have missed this Wonder is beyond me. He’s a Dylan/Lennon fistfight on mushrooms who has mastered the art of using his sinuses as reverb chambers. Familiar, but feeling like I’ve discovered the next great British export. Good Jesus, I’m tripping out on his lyrics and immediately dissecting song structure, knowing this is the beginning of something big for me. Outlaw Radio’s Buddy & Jim, Miller & Lauderdale, have Hitchcock talking above their bird-chirp soundscape. A new resident of East Nashville and now, collaborator through an impromptu recording session with Welch and Rawlings. No sooner do I eject the duo’s 2011 release from my player, Hitchcock’s British accent lends a matter-of-fact tone to their metaphysical connection with the possibility that they were once the same entity. Together in the ether for who knows how long. I subscribe considering my first impression of The Harrow & The Harvest.

Between Hitchcock album cuts and live-off-the-floor performances, he praises the duo’s hands-on-approach to their studio renovation in Nashville’s east side. The history of the building. The location. The education I should have received months ago realizing its proximity to my place in the city, walking across its parking lot daily. The enchantment of the community.

The Mexican Buffet lost its stronghold on my hunger hours ago and late evening grits, bacon and hashbrown casserole would accompany a thirty minute reading break quite well. With Jason’s advice to enjoy the trip, I make my last stop at the first Cracker Barrel upon crossing the state line. I can safely say I’ve never had anything off their menu other than breakfast options – I quit reading A Prayer for Owen Meany following my return, so I packed it and pick up from where I left off.

In and out in under twenty minutes and I’m soon taking my Cleveland street exit. Christian and Marshall filled my old room upon my departure and a New Year’s Eve phone call let me know that ‘the new guy’ didn’t work out. With intent to revisit and continue writing “The Quest For Real Country Music’s” second instalment, it helps recall to arrange my air mattress, guitar case and duffle bag as if I never moved out. I pull the van up to our beside our psychedelic garage. My key with the ruby headstock has remained with the fob but I give the locked door a couple solid raps. Unanswered, I let myself in, inflate and sleep. It’s nice to be home.

And sleep. Snooze. Sleep.

My conditioning to sleeping in is attached to guilt. And whether it’s performing until 2:30 am or a twenty-seven hour drive, I find it hard to get past the fact that my brother has been feeding cattle since 7:00 am and I’m not outside helping him. Fifteen years and its only slightly dissipated – kept on the level by the occasional early morning phone call missed while he bounces along with the bale processor. This morning is no different so I get to it. The legal pad, boxed bullets in front of groceries, clean van, organize room, and write. The other boys in the house do a mighty good job at restful self-care but my bashing around signals my return. Aw bro we missed you man. Shirtless, hand-clasp half-hugs – I lock my chin down on a shoulder to tighten it up. Marshall still working away for Nielsen data collection and Hunter living the twenty year old dream. Solid wake-and-bake, audio engineering class and drumming. He moved in to fill the last room a week before I left – our connection quick. Christian remains on the road with his band for the next four days.

The gentrification of Nashville’s east side is impetuous. My predominantly black neighbourhood has humble low-income homesteads counting down the days before they are torn down or built up. Tree removal as part of the process, an uncongenial transformation. Lives continue on the front steps. From my kitchen window a middle-aged man in a wheelchair puts his hours in, a bouquet of plastic flowers in his front yard intuit a memorial. He’s been there since September, every morning, wheeled out until wheeled back in. The Truevine Missionary Baptist Church, the roof bowed inward as if God himself is trying to get to the congregation but can’t quite break through the rafters. It shares the lot with a tin sided mobil home. Next, a brown bungalow, jury-rigged porch covering, shingles torn and weather worn, smallest lot. Finally, a double lot, pristine quadplex, designer combination of pastel blues and yellows, rock and cedar shake siding, two stories, Land Rovers and Minivans. SOLD.

Black and White.

I walk through the thick of it before Main Street becomes Gallatin Avenue. Across Gillian and David’s parking lot, through the Five Points intersection and up to Bongo Java’s east location. Still a little hot on my discovery of Robyn Hitchcock, I worry that if the universe lines us up together at our communal work spot, my professionalism may get set to the side and I disrespect Nashville’s “let be” code. Then again, there always a way around that one.

Finally, I begin to write. For as hip as it may be, a black coffee, my lap top and the creative buzz has The Muse pulling up a chair without my invoking. She just sits there and feeds me, occasionally going outside for a cigarette, quick to return. I pick up where I left off – The Kickin’ It on the Creek festival in the Appalachian Mountains outside of Irvine, Kentucky. Tyler Childers finishing up his set and my musings on the origination of Country Music. My typing speed starting to find the imbalance of the table. I fold a corrugated insulation paper cup sleeve in half and wedge it between the base and the floor.

A steady stream of Creatives, business meetings and hook-ups. I eavesdrop on who sounds like Tim McGraw’s backstage event manager planning a charity event. The productivity in the room is infectious and gentle.

I assume the short multicoloured wisps of paint on the lap of a man’s jeans as a fashion statement but he returns with an easel, it’s practical. He sets his pop up studio in the corner to create in a much more prevalent way than myself. What looks like an image inspired from the view of the Hubble Space Telescope, Hendrix is soon to appear in its foreground.

The window table to my left is occupied by another newcomer. Without surprise, recognized.

Leeroy Stagger’s 2009 release, Everything is Real began my pursuit of producer John Ellis and initiated me into the mind of its creator. I soon held Stagger as my distant mentor, unbeknownst to him. A perpetual touring schedule with material impertinent on its mashing of genres. Rock and Roll at its core, I would flip the influence and put Haggard ahead of his Steve Earle. Providing a place of rest upon his Regina performances, we bonded over black coffees. My own efforts to dig deeper into his catalogue. Stagger’s collaborative and opportunistic spirit followed him north to Alaska in cahoots with Anchorage’s Even Phillips and Nashville transplant, Tim Easton to create and release under their acronym, ESP.

The “E”, Tim, in all his ruggedness, commandeering the empty spot beside me.

I disclose our Lethbridge connection and he shifts seat in my direction. As Hendrix appears more towards completion, Easton and I tackle the obvious in our appreciation for Stagger. I stumble through the backstory from last fall’s journey to my currant positioning at Bongo East, still looking for the warriors in today’s fight for Real Country Music, I pull options from Easton. He humbly informs of his performance with Rueben Bidez and Rayvon Pettis at The Basement tonight before insisting I see Joshua Hedley on Saturday. I’ve dedicated to casting the word ‘maybe’ from my vocabulary and give my verbal commitment to both.

I grab the pop-up artist’s contact on my way to the washroom before packing up my workplace. Olasubomi Aka-Bashorun and I will connect again during my stay. A substantial drop in temperature into the late afternoon and I retrace my walk home, through the Five Points Intersection and across the studio parking lot.

Quick on hopefulness but bombarded by their existence, I catch the eye of whom I conclude to be David Rawlings. Of course I do. Standing close enough to the glass door at studio entrance, the full figure drinks from a coffee cup and turns away from my distant reflection. As approaching Easton was friendly, my thoughts now are in betrayal of the code. I process for minutes. Between pacing, pondering and pretending a phone call (strangely) – I continue home, turn around and walk towards the studio door only to find it locked.

Through the tint sits a woman. About to regret the embarrassing moment as I squint through my mirroring, she walks towards me just before I would have decided to wave and vacate. Like an apparition she comes into view and unlocks, introducing herself as if expecting me.

Hi, I’m Gillian.

III-3. A Muffler Man, A Horseman, and a South Kentucky Sunset, Man

February 7th 2017 7:43 am

I exit Carrington’s new round-about headed straight south. Advertised coming into town, the Chieftain Conference Center is just over the tracks and guarded by an twenty-four foot fiberglass statue, arm extended. The “muffler man” craze of the 1960’s gave International Fiberglass out of Venice, California the monopoly on America’s roadside attractions. Used to advertise businesses and designed to hold full sized car mufflers, transmissions, and tires (hence the name), “muffler men” were erected throughout the country. Chicken Boy in Highland Park, California, Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois, Paul Bunyan in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and Nitro Girl in Blackwood, New Jersey. But the most popular, The Indian.

Shirtless, dark red skin, braided hair, war paint, a head dress. A classic mid-century interpretation of America’s “savage” – appropriated for advertisement and used to “honour” the areas connection to its original inhabitants. New Yorker cartoonist, Bill Griffith, beat me to “Big Chief” by half a century as his comic “Zippy the Pinhead” worshipped these muffler men – allowing “Big Chief” to acknowledge that he’d been turned into a “racist stereotype of the wild west.” The comic excludes the totem pole beside “Big Chief” – I imagine its placement to “honour” North Dakota’s connection to the Pacific Northwest.

“Big Chief” faces the southwest, arm extended towards another Dakota atrocity taking place at Standing Rock First Nation.

Carrington’s Muffler Man

Having already travelled these roads and a final destination in place, I should have a more confident sense of safety, but as the turn of season affected highway conditions the political climate is as icy. I continue to progress towards Minnesota and plan to treat my general approach to this journey as I do my early evening winter driving. The barren landscape without any windbreak, barbed wire providing the only resistance to the blustering howl. As soon as I get too trusting with my speed, I’m humbled with a subtle loss of control. Falling back into cautious conduct, observing, and allowing the semi truck ahead of me to cut the trail.

I betrayed my own experience in the usage of silence, music and talk radio to control the flow of an extended drive and hence fatigue. The secret to endure as much silence off the top end of the travel – like one starves themselves before an all you can eat buffet. But a misplaced USB containing a thirty song tribute to Guy Clark presented itself yesterday after a year missing. Joe Ely covering Dublin Blues took me across the border, and I blasted through it at full volume. Vince Gill, Randall Knife. Jack Ingram, Stuff that Works. Radney Foster, L.A. Freeway. Ray Wylie Hubbard, Homegrown Tomatoes. James McMurtry, Cold Dog Soup. Hayes Carll, Worry B Gone. Hot damn, I ate a steak dinner.

I force three hours of silence. A homemade wooden cutting board as a gift from my brother and his wife has acted as my van desktop for the last two years. I wedge it at elbow level across the middle console as an extended armrest and writing tablet. Staring ahead and visually focused on the road, I allow myself to jot notes, filling up three legal-pad pages before another icy reminder gets two hands back on the wheel.

I enjoy road silence as much as anything. The opportunity to create, solve problems, and work out stage banter. Ideas for the performance of the new record come in and out, characters.

Minneapolis is deserted. The empty I-94 cutting through the lonely midwestern ghost town. My favourite podcast, Darkness Radio, never heard live on its “Twin Cities News Talk AM 1130” home, I’m unable to make the hosts through the static but enjoy the frequency noise. An eeriness as the Interstate goes dark and I pull off the road. The old 6.2 diesel would purr like a kitten while I slept, but I blast the heat in the Caravan for ten minutes, winterize my apparel and recline the driver’s seat before killing the engine.

Usual vehicle sleeping consists of all effort for the most comfortable and accommodating rest. But mission driving calls for naps upon fatigue, day or night. I just so happen to have made it to 2:30 am. Sleeping sound and cold until 6:41 am. Unfortunately, McDonalds run this Interstate scene and I’m lured in by their dollar coffee and can’t resist a greasy McGriddle. Greasy.

It’s clear roads to Oglesby. Birthplace to a handful of professional athletes, it’s just another water tower. Queener, with four months growth on his face looks as good as the day I left him. A cowpuncher and somewhat of a twang hub. Upon my first trip south, last fall, I was advised by Del (Barber) to forget about Nashville and just go down and hang with Queener for a month – I now appreciate the suggestion. A mutual friend now among a group of us, he’s a take-no-shit Man of God. Fight-the-good-fight Cosmic Christian, a pious resistance to dogma. A horseman, a poet, a picker and intellect. We regret not being in Elko for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and check the mileage as if we were to completely blow off commitments. The neighbouring town of La Salle, IL, answers our desire for Mexican and takes it a step further with a lunch buffet.

Shane Queener, Cosmic Cowboy

Queener and I are pleasured with surface conversation and enchiladas. We dip into homemade guacamole and dream recall but for the most part, catch up. The small chance that he returns to Tennessee before I leave is hopeful. We found ourselves to the point of embarrassment asking each other out for lunch last fall – now it’s an expectation. A couple hours pass, he’s returned to his hotel room before heading to do warehouse installations and sends me off with a couple verses about The San Gabriel Mountains. Pretty Good Guy, that guy.

Willing to risk latter boredom, I begin my Guy Clark tribute from the top. It takes me past Champaign, IL. Silence then Gillian Welch’s The Harrow & The Harvest into a south Kentucky sunset. The songs need no more than David Rawlings’ support. I save listens, especially first listens. I’m sure this record was played in my presence at some point but I’ve intentionally never listened to it, knowing the right time and place to do so. It, along with Tom Waits’ Orphans trilogy are the ‘Unheards’ for my trip to Tennessee. The way it will be. Truck Drivin’ Classics will find its way into the player with an emergency dip of Red Man, I’m sure.

The sunset is surreal. I dash-cam my iPhone to capture the palette and sync with Welch.

“Momma’s in the beauty parlor, and Daddy’s in the baseball pool
Sister’s in the drive-in movie, Brother’s in the old high school
Now here you come alone and crying, once, you know, you were my friend
That’s the way the cornbread crumbles…”

To appreciate the moment I take my next exit, park in the lot of an abandoned Interstate strip club and allow the shades of purple to swallow themselves.

That’s the way the whole thing ends.

III-2. The Star Card

February 6th 2017 8:32 am

Coincidently, I have yet to eat and am again driving through Carrington, North Dakota. Crossing the American border at Northgate, both last fall and a few hours ago, I’ve spent a collective time of no more than two minutes in conversation with the crossing guards. A white guy in a cowboy hat – yep – we like them. The routine, ‘I did my job’ questions: Where you from? Where you going? Any firearms? Any tobacco? Alright, have a nice trip. Rubber-stamped. The quickest way to ruin a 2500 km trip is to commit to a departure time and align geographical landmarks with projected time of arrival. It’s a set-up for disappointment. So today I casually crossed after a morning with my nephews beating on each other and playing “you be the bullfighter and I’ll be the bull” followed by a pit stop in Carlyle to visit my friend Lorri.

Yesterday’s morning coffee with my good friend Jason was a final pep talk before the last minute tying of loose ends. Another caffeinated brainstorming – a legal pad with a Blackwing 602 pencil. I draw a small box followed by a thought. My designation for a checkmark to signal achieving the task, I prefer the aesthetic of the line highlighted, box remaining empty. Of these tasks; buy health insurance, find air mattress, meet with bassist Steve about facilitating rehearsals in my absence. The hunt for partners in the release of the record continues but not overthought. A bit of my hesitancy with leaving is connected to those administrative duties and a commitment to a game plan. The record will be a lot for the listener to chew on – it’s best released one bite at a time. The reigns to have a band working like clockwork on the new material come March is trusted in Steve’s hands.

Jason urged me to relax. Just chip away at the list, leave casually when it’s time to go and enjoy the drive. He’s always been supportive with my erratic behaviour – I scrapped all my material weeks before going into studio to have him produce the record, informing him we were starting from scratch. His ability to manage an artist (emotionally) is his greatest quality as a producer. His genius begins there. This conversation is an extension of that – as he left for studio he insisted I activate my tracker on my phone so he could keep tabs on my whereabouts. Pretty Good Guy, that guy.

From there I said my goodbyes to my lovely Melanie, her support – dumbfounding. We do well as entities in each other’s careers, teaming up but keeping names separate. I can only credit her with being the catalyst in my personal development, the classic “don’t find a partner that wants to change you but one you want to change for”. Having just attempted the theft of a keg of beer from a local live music establishment she came into my world during a pretty rocky period on my end. And now, another kiss goodbye, looking forward to the end of February and few days together in Music City.

I slept well in my old bed at the farm and had a nice couple hours with Lorri over lunch. An unassuming connection but we gravitated towards each other quickly. She’s great for morning messages wishing productivity – we’ve been due for a hang and more than what the time allowed. Quick and dirty, digging into the nitty gritty. She has an intuition that guides her contact with the most astounding timing. Last fall just prior to a controversial Facebook post in regards to my opinions on the decline of quality among Canadian mainstream writing, her message popped up with the feeling that she should check in. I responded with “buckle up” and we both watched a shit-storm ensue. I stand by it.

Upon leaving she pulls out her Tarot cards. She’s tapped in like that. Never allowing one to separate from the deck she insists on me pulling one for my trip. Protection, if you will. I shuffled and my card jumped from the deck to the floor – she laughed. There you go, traveler. The Star. A woman with two pitchers of water, nourishing a rose bush with one and returning the other to a stream which she’s knelt beside. A star with eight points overlooking her actions with several smaller stars scattered above. The woman, a striking resemblance to my partner, the two pitchers indicating the star sign Aquarius – again a parallel to Melanie.

It feels like a good omen. I’m instructed to carry it on me at all times so into the right chest pocket of my jean jacket it goes. Hugs and I head out.

The 52 southeast of Minot has me trailing a truck with lumber at a patient 50 km/hr. I tested the brakes to have the ass end of my van kick to the left and adrenaline surge through my chest. I’ve learned my winter driving lessons spinning like a curling rock down a pebbled 48 highway years ago. My mustang, backwards in the opposing ditch through oncoming traffic. I put my hand to my Star card and a text from Melanie comes through. This is how it works – a commitment to magic.

And here I pull back into Carrington. Where I spent my first night due to a late crossing and fatigue last September – I replicate my supper, this time hours earlier with a desire to get through Minneapolis. Pork Rinds and Gatorade.

A noticeably pleasant tone inside the truck stop coming into town. Locals ribbing each other from across the convenience store, the centre of the room acting as a make-shift coffeeshop. I respond to nods, mood affected. My first American interaction post election (aside from the border guard) is a gentleman of a much rougher appearance smiling and offering the spot ahead of him as I make me way to the till. “Are you sure?” I ask, “By all means,” he replies.

I devour two-thirds of the bag of pork fat before starting the ignition and am moved to have someone on the flipside expect me. Shane Queener, a resident of Lebanon, TN and one to quickly become my friend through the Quest for Real Country Music was the first to enter my mind. I looked forward to spending more time with him out at his ranch than anything. With a rebellious approach to religion, we bonded quickly – usually over burritos at El Jaliciense.

Queener sits bunked up in a little town west of Chicago, an unexpected turn of employment has him living on the road and away from home. Past the initial disappointment with the news that he isn’t going to be around we come to the decision that driving in his direction is well worth the slight deviation in routing. To Oglesby, Illinois I continue with hopes of supporting a Mexican family business.

War on Truth: The Importance of Real Country Music

February 5th 2017 8:48 am

Why Country Music?

This was the question I continuously asked myself. With every mile driven and word written – why was I so passionate about the state of a genre of music? My Quest had the odd political understudy popping up as I was interacting with people of predominantly “red” states. I was intrigued by the mindsets and what they saw in the Republican Party nominee. Upon returning home, I scrutinized my mission even further – with all the discourse I should be lending my voice to fighting, why was I still compelled to defend the quality of a genre?

Art dictates the quality of life. If there is a lack of quality in art it parallels our day to day existence. As an institution, Country Music was also a voice. Stories connecting through emotion, an account of the average. Good ol boys, and level-headed women. At the risk of racialism, a caucasian connection to the blues. It bridged the divide and created a bond that displayed more similarities to lifestyles than differences. Bluegrass or Mountain Music at its core beginnings – the banjo, introduced by African-American slaves, fused with the jigs and reels of the Irish. The genre was born of cultural diversity and remains the closest tie rural North America. Arguably, a demographic in most need of social enlightenment.

As a Country Artist I have been blessed with the support of rural Canada and America. I was born into a community driven by conservative politics. Upon legal age, I gave my vote to my conservative leaders – provincially and federally. I value fiscal responsibility therefore seeing the left as “Commies” and “Socialists” – as that’s what I was told they were. Instructed to not have my vote cancel out a parent’s. Welfare was only for the lazy, why should I get up and work my ass off all day to pay for the next person to sit on a couch? My community surrounded by native reserves with an obvious and intentional disconnection to the issues literally up the road.

“Just a joke” was a quick protection and my privilege as a heterosexual, caucasian, Christian, male was simply my luck of the draw.

The long of the short – I was uneducated. Ignorant through nurture, as it takes a community to raise a child and this was the hand I was dealt.

These views found their way into my art form, it was subtle but present. On my 2012 release, Coyote, I sang about an “Indian filly with the jet black mane” – an obvious racial reference to a woman. A song that quickly became a staple in the live show and a fan favourite, making me wince inside with every performance. I’d pass it off as harmless.

From the get-go, it was a priority to craft a lyric and avoid the production trends that would increase my chances at mainstream play. We’d enter the battle of the bands promoted by the local FM station and despite destroying a stage with a polished performance we’d be encouraged to continue “doing our thing” with the most condescending tone from industry “names”. And so be it.

This was a hidden advantage forcing us to find an audience among the folk music communities all while continuing to be true to our sound and welcoming supporters regardless their love or detest for more commercially viable acts. We quickly began to see an amalgamation of followers – with extreme opposing political views and all degrees of social empathy.

There was an opportunity and responsibility presenting itself that I couldn’t ignore. This, more apparent when attempting to connect with supporters through social media.

Considering our own Canadian political climate leading into the most recent Federal election, partisan politics flamboyantly ran amuck. I continued to share many views with the political “Right” – personally turning down a meeting with Liberal candidate Justin Trudeau – a further extension of my ignorance, saying “I have no desire to be in the same room as him.” However, for as much support as I was receiving through communities of one-mindset there was an equal rise of another. We toured the country through the federal election period and began to listen.

There was an astounding message of compassion. At the ground level, from coast to coast, Canadians recognized themselves as leaders in an empathetic change. Never black or white – sure certain areas disagreeing with policies and leaning more towards one side than the other but not without recognition, as passive or small as it were, for equality. Communities taking care of their own and devout inclusion.

My period of listening evolved to engagement. The more one side would express concerns, a healthy dialogue would ensue. Listening still at the root of the process, I began to see opposing sides find middle ground. These conversations began to quickly influence my views and encourage my position in social reform. My role as a Country Music artist – more important than ever.

And then I was forced to double down on that importance with my trip into the United States with last year’s “Quest for Real Country Music“. Admittedly, there was minimal political desire to the mission, sure as a people study it was an interesting time to see what connected with individuals throughout the campaign but at it’s core I was genuinely interested in empowering the artists and the communities that shared my desire for quality in a genre that I hold dear.

But as this new version of politics began to resonate with certain moralities and I couldn’t help but discern the connection to my genre – “Country Music” in its most inclusive general sense.

So what constitutes “Real Country Music”? As a tag I pushed to further my agenda, my definition continues to evolve but there is a unifying message imparted among its artists and that is a devotion to truth. A truth in their message that is best conveyed through quality lyrics, an emotional connection, and by honouring traditionalisms within the genre. Through this, they subconsciously connect on a deeper level to their followers – nostalgically to the mature and fashionably to the youth. Further, “rebellious” qualities attached to the genre derive from an unapologetic truth to themselves – only strengthening their message.

A truth that allows trust to develop and a voice to be adopted. A truth that is contagious and effective. A truth that influences political and sociological change. A truth that will dissolve racial prejudices, misogynistic views, and archaic belief structures.

In the words of Gloria Steinem: “Finding language that will allow people to act together while cherishing each other’s individuality is probably the most feminist and therefore truly revolutionary function of writers. Just as there can be no big social change without music (as Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution’), there can be none without words and phrases that first create a dream of change in our heads.”

This truth cannot be fabricated and charlatans commoditizing on the movement will be persecuted if any attention is paid in their direction at all.

The importance in the fight for Real Country Music is that it is the vehicle that will drive this change and the voice for the age we’ve entered. The War on Truth.

And Emma Goldman would be happy to know that it’s going to be a two-step.

III-1. A Commitment To The Muse

February 4th 2017 1:20 pm

In mid August of last year a tension found its way into my mornings. I’d wake at an early set alarm in an attempt to get a head start on the day, my routine consisted of a half-pot of coffee and one of five or six books I was ingesting simultaneously. Having just finished up the recording process to what will be my fifth full length record, I was beating myself up regardless of my good intensions. I couldn’t write. The well went dry in the process of crafting the vision I had for a concept record. Based on an extraordinary experience that turned all beliefs on their head, it forced me to begin looking inward as a man. The process received my best, my most vulnerable – but in hindsight, I didn’t do anything. I was simply a craftsman with sharpened tools being used as a conduit, however, the process was an ass-kicking emotional purge. One that demanded a recovery that I couldn’t quite allow myself to accept. And from there the tension grew.

Books are like a grind-wheel and I was lucky to discover this following my break-up with Anita. I took on the epic, Lonesome Dove, as a way to replace longing. I carried the seven hundred pager with me and quickly turn to it the moment that annoying ache would creep in – quickly finding myself in both of the novel’s protagonists. I had Woodraw Call’s inability to emotionally connect with the opposite sex, making life about work and a sense of pride to ruled all decisions. I had Augustus McCrae’s chill factor and desire for lust, value for humour and inability to suffer fools. It was the first time I got “lost” in a book. I finished it and literally threw it with a laugh, calling the inanimate object a Son of a Bitch. Picked it up, headed to the ranch and put it on the shelf where my mom keeps my handful of industry awards. For whatever reason it felt like it belonged among trophies.

I jumped quickly into All The Pretty Horses at the recommendation of my good buddy, Del. It was a punch above my literary weight and I quit reading about fifty pages in. McCarthy’s style abandoned all rules, and only because you could tell he mastered them. A safe assumption based on his vocabulary. How does one get to this point?

Stephen King gave me the answer in his book On Writing. The book is laden with insight, a condensation of wisdom from one of history’s most prolific. King imparted “If you wanna be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” He backed this up by disclosing he reads 80 books a year. A shocking declaration but sensible considering the mastery of his craft.

I began with westerns, biographies, and narrative science. Hundreds of dollars – I’d allow myself Chapters shopping sprees. Making mounds at a time by their wicker chairs, reading the synopsis and feeling the book out. I’d ask employees to bring me their favourites, as I’d just sit there and indulge, like servants to a master – crossed-legged and pampered. Fiction became my genre of choice – I reproached All The Pretty Horses and followed it up with Blood Meridian, working away in segments only to abandon and start from the beginning every few months, moving further into its content with each attempt. My interests spread to pseudo-science, meta-physics, new age and spiritual. Dr. Rick Strassman and Thomas P. Fusco, Aldous Huxley and don Miguel Ruiz, Joseph Campbell.

The concept of writing a book slowly started to present itself with questions. Possible storylines or commentaries. But zero confidence to begin – coming up short with creative prose, I’d salvage the mindset by picking up my guitar, Wiser’s Deluxe/Bear Flag Red/Craft IPA, a couple joints and settling into a songwriting comfort zone. What would become the beginning stages of my newest record, unknowing that the content would somehow fit into a greater concept.

Then the vices took over and creativity ended. Attempts at creativity ended. Mornings were wake-and-bake, mindless Interneting, minimal emailing and the first beer of the afternoon. Arguably, my desire to become a Writer as the catalyst to the demise. Total complacency.

My experience on December 9, 2015 shocked me straight. Until 2:00 am on December 26, 2015 I was terrorized. Still working up the courage to share, the greater victory was text-book salvation. Was it my pre-disposition to the concept that made me believe as much? A classic “calling out” for help, answered. In that bargaining, a commitment on my end. I gave myself away and will stand by that decision. From there something opened, cosmic and benevolent. The ability to see signs – undeniably. The understanding that through trust and a commitment to the wind, one answers their calling.

I wrote Realms sober and trusted my producer’s decisions. This circles us back to last August, having finished the record, a tension in my mornings and a question of ‘what now?’ It felt like there were many steps to be taken before even considering the release of the material – the usual progression would have artwork designed, album pressed and a release date announced. Thrity or so dates, a couple music videos to accompany the singles and try and sell a few thousand records independently. The tension though, said no.

I didn’t know what I was being told except leave. Jump in the van and drive. Sussing out reasoning, I initially thought I was to fill my well by seeing as many artists as possible and enjoy some time alone. Sitting in a Minneapolis coffee shop, a day after my departure (Buddy Holly’s birthday), I realized what I was about to experience would be better shared and my love for a good story had me type “Nowhere To Be; A Quest for Real Country Music” into the backend of my WordPress website. Just a title in the subject line. I immediately was filled with angst towards the industry, the bastardization of the genre, the manipulation of the listenership, and the complete lack of quality in the mainstream’s representation. Like fuck, enough is enough.

No intention of starting a blog, I felt compelled to empower others fighting the same fight – so I began to type.

My frustrations of song-writer’s block was forgiven instantaneously. I hadn’t written a song in almost six months and somehow felt like this was the outlet to be focused on. I booked some anchor performances that I would make my way to see with ample time off in between to go with the flow, meet people and develop a narrative. Nothing like a little social media traction to commit a guy to the process, regardless of the intimidation of creative prose.

Then the muse stepped in and everything took on a life of its own. The right place at the right time became the norm and I simply couldn’t keep up – to experience and relate in real time was altering the experience in itself. The blog began to dictate the decisions made and the blurring realities began muddling the narrative. So with the greater project in mind, I kept intricate notes and lived in the moment.

As far as the Quest went – I found what I was looking for deep in the Appalachian mountains at a family oriented festival. Nothing short of magic. The artists, the curator, the setting and the support. A cast that I remain in contact with but where my decision to focus on the experience came at the expense of the writing. And a disappointment to my readers. But the story continued –

I got lost in the hills. I made it to Nashville. I sat front row to John Prine at The Ryman thanks to a random stranger giving me a ticket. I was rallied by T-bone Burnett. Margo Price, Jason Isbell, Nathaniel Rateliff – a new circle of encounters. Part two to the story – unwritten.

Upon returning home in October, I settled into writing again, relying heavily on the hundreds of pictures I took on my phone to recall settings and memories. Further supported by my Moleskin full of notes – the momentum felt good and I understood the development – the blog being the first draft to a book. But no real dedication, when time would allow I’d revisit the project –

On the evening of October 31st, I left my van door unlocked as I was dropping off some personal belongings to a storage unit I had rented. Jumping back into the vehicle, the anxiety set in when searching for my phone. It was no where to be found. Assuming it was somewhere in the vehicle or locked in the storage unit I returned home to prove myself correct by activating its location online. Wrong. It appeared in a parkade a couple blocks from home only to quickly go offline. Security video captured a lone thief watching me enter the storage complex, opening my driver-side door and bolting. The loss of content was a lesson and a blow I couldn’t seem to recover from. My entries abruptly ended and I went back to the daily grind of the independent musician – booking shows, emailing about the new record and spending November and December on the road.

I took a residency at the local community radio station in Regina to combat the feeling of defeat. For as fulfilling as it was, it didn’t suffice the constant voice to continue to write. But it just wasn’t there. Not from any setting in Regina. There was something about being on the move, the pursuit of the Muse engaged each of us in a flirtatious courting. I would promise to romance her and she would give me a reason to – she could work through me and I would dedicate to the message. Whatever that may be and trusting it would come.

So I left.