Interview with Anthony Jewett

(Note: this was an interview between myself and Anthony Jewett for a Berklee Conservatory of Music class.) 

Death and Redemption:

Bleeding Out with Casey Wickstrom

by Anthony Jewett

Multi-instrumentalist and looping artist Casey Wickstrom has been performing in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years and has released a remarkable discography. I got a chance to sit down with him recently to chat about his life as a performing artist and his recently-released fifth full-length album, “Bleed Out.” For links to his music, blog, and more, visit his website at caseywicktrom.com.

AJ: Your album, “Bleed Out,” is dark and heavy. There’s a lot of variety between tracks.

CW: It covers a lot of ground stylistically. There’s some Red Hot Chili Pepper influences, some people say there’s Nirvana in the tracks. It’s definitely a rock album. When I play solo acoustic and people ask about the CDs, I tell them that that “Bleed Out” is like a rock album and gets heavy, and “Volume One” is like what you’re hearing tonight. So, if people hear the mellow acoustic stuff, they opt for “Volume One.”

AJ: Some of the songs, like “Hollywood and Vine,” are fun, upbeat songs, but others, like “Evocation,” are fuzzy and heavy.

CW: Totally, the tone on [‘Evocation’] was like, when I was heard it coming back while it was getting mixed, I was like ‘Fffff…’ It’s definitely one of my favorite, but that’s as heavy as it gets. If it was on vinyl, side two would start with ‘Evocation,’ that is definitely the start of the other side. For ‘Hollywood and Vine,’ my M.O., so to speak, is really upbeat melodies with contrasting dark subject matter. ‘Hollywood and Vine’ is about drug addiction, toxic relationships, self-hatred, you know all that good stuff I draw so much material from, but if you don’t listen to the lyrics, the melody itself is very upbeat and catchy. I like that, you can get away with so much in a song if it just sounds happy, but if you read or focus on the lyrics you’re like ‘Fuck dude, I didn’t even know that was what this song was about.’ But ‘Evocation’ doesn’t pull any punches.”

AJ: Can you tell me about the story of “Bleed Out”?

CW: Some of those song started when I was twenty-one, and then the band I was in, The Shoes!, we split up. I moved to California, moved down to LA, then I got in a car crash with a drunk driver. I almost died; I broke my knee, my arm, my back, they had to take out my spleen, they had to fix my liver. That’s what almost killed me, the liver lacerations. My face was torn off, it was really, really intense. The recovery process of that was so intense that I immediately got hooked on prescription pain killers. Then it started to progress into other drugs and heavier drugs and for the next three years it was this downward spiral, and I was suicidally depressed.

All this time, I was writing and playing music, because I had this feeling that I wasn’t going to be here much longer, so I’ve got to write and record as much as I can. I recorded a three-track EP in LA, I recorded a live album, I recorded “Desperate Times,” which is my fourth album. I had to leave LA, just because shit was getting so crazy there; drugs and everything was just falling apart. Then I came up north and that’s where the climax happened. I overdosed, and I checked myself into Stanford [Hospital], I’m like ‘I’m going to die, this is the last option, and if it doesn’t work, at least I tried.’ Stanford was the turning point for me, the psychiatric ward, the suicide watch. I was there for a week. They were like ‘Man, you can not do drugs anymore. If you want to live, you can’t drink and do drugs anymore.’

So, I got back on medication, because I had stopped taking them. I started doing yoga, which I hadn’t done since high school and I love yoga, and I started meditation. I started turning my life around, and I thought ‘Alright, if I’m going to live, I need to start working on these songs again and start making some sort of cohesive project.’ I put together a recording studio in my house and I started working on these songs, playing all the instruments. I reached out to Austin Vidonn [drummer for the album] in Colorado, and I said ‘I’m thinking about working on an EP’ and he was so down. I thought it was going to be a five track EP, and the more I worked on the songs the more they opened up, and all of the sudden I’m looking at an eleven-track album. The landscape of these songs I hadn’t seen through all the way, I’m looking at this collage of sounds and memories and music, from a point of sobriety too. I’m looking back at these songs, many of which I wrote when I was not of a healthy mindset, and I think that’s what’s so cool about music and writing in general: you have documentation of your past, and it can act as a strong source of confirmation for where you were and where you are. The album from start to finish is very intense. It’s very violent. I mean, the album’s called ‘Bleed Out.’ The picture on the cover is my head busted open.

AJ: I was checking out your blog, and on there you have pictures of your recovery and the crash.

CW: Yeah, and those are even more intense than anything else. Yeah…that car crash was insane. If you live to a certain age, I think there’s certain parts of your life where you’re like ‘everything changed.’ I’ve had quite a few of those, but the car crash was definitely one of them. I mean, in my mind, I was twenty-four, and I died, and then everything after that is bonus time. I’m living on bonus time. I mean, I’m a yoga teacher, I’ve turned everything around.

AJ: How did you get into looping?

CW: I moved down to LA when I was twenty-four and everyone was looping, like everywhere I went, people were looping. I’m like, ‘Well fuck, I guess I’ve got to start looping then.’ By that point, I had been playing guitar for fourteen years so looping wasn’t that challenging to get into. But then I started looping lap slide, because I didn’t see that going on much, and I thought ‘what else do I want to loop so I can be different?’ So, then I started doing cigar box guitar, and then I would add bass into the same mix, so I was playing two instruments in a single song and composing like that.

AJ: How did the cigar box guitar happen?

CW: I came back up north and started looping the lap slide and thought ‘This is cool, I’m not seeing a lot of this. I want to keep looping slide instruments.’ I was looking at different options for slide. One of my favorite bands is Morphine; it’s a trio out of Boston. It’s drums, baritone sax, sometimes the guy plays two baritone saxes at once, so he’s got a double sax, and then a two-string slide electric bass. They have this super dark, deep drone, because he’s playing this two-string slide bass and so it’s super bluesy and dark and also jazzy, because you’ve got the sax. That was a huge influence on that really open drone.

I thought ‘I want to check out a cigar box guitar.’ I ordered a really shitty one off Amazon, a three-string. I think it was under thirty dollars. I started looping it and wanted to make a music video for it, so I had my friends come over. Before they came over, I was looping and thinking ‘Eh, I don’t like the sound, I want to add bass to it.’ All of the sudden, I was looping two instruments in a song, so it just happened like that; a spur of the moment thing. Then I thought ‘Well this is cool, but this guitar is a piece of shit, and it’s as good as it’s going to sound ever.’ I reached out to my friend Teddy Randazzo who makes guitar pickups and I have his pickups in all my guitars. I asked him, ‘Have you made a cigar box guitar before?’ He’s like ‘I don’t even think I know what that is.’ I said ‘Well, alright, let me figure something out and I’ll talk to you later.’ I called the Los Gatos Cigar Shop, said ‘Do you have any cigar boxes I can borrow?’ They said, ‘Come over before we throw them away and see which ones you want.’ I got this one, it’s a Nicaraguan cigar box, and I’m Nicaraguan, and I thought that was kind of cool, like ‘we’re the same blood’ or something.

I took the neck from the crappy Amazon one, because it was actually a good neck, it had the tuning pegs and everything. We used that, and I went to Teddy’s studio and we just figured it out. I think it took us three or four hours to figure it out, then he put a pickup in it. Now everywhere I go, people ask ‘what is that?’ ‘Oh, I made it!’ It’s really cool, it’s an attention thing. It’s cool, because I can cover The Who songs, like I do a version of ‘Eminence Front,’ which is rad because people don’t know what it is until I start singing it. That’s essentially what I like most about playing lap slide and cigar box guitar; I can play any song and it’s guaranteed not to sound like the original because it’s a totally different instrument. I feel like I have more liberty with certain songs and covering certain artists because it’s automatically my own take because I’m playing it on a different instrument.

AJ: You play a lot of slide. There’s slide all over the album, you play slide when you perform, but there’s also music videos where you just play acoustic guitar.

CW: Sure, which I love, but that’s the thing. I’ll play for three hours just on acoustic guitar, and people are like ‘Yeah, he’s good, sounds good,’ but the second I sit down and start playing lap slide, or the second I take out that cigar box, everyone turns around and is like ‘What is he doing, that’s crazy!’ That’s what you want. People need that, it’s like your calling card.

AJ: You write a lot of cool entries in your blog. How do you approach your blog?

CW: The blog on my website is awesome to me because I’m able to touch upon anything I want. I’m on Facebook and Instagram, but I approach those as business. I use those for promotional tactics, for shows, and for keeping in contact with friends and fans. My website is much more personal, and that’s why I chose that as a platform to blog about really whatever I want. I write all the time, that’s why I’m getting a degree in English Literature. I’d like to teach creative writing, which would be cool because then sometime this decade I could teach creative writing, yoga, guitar, and play live shows, and that sounds like a pretty sweet existence. I write every day, and I always have since I could hold a pencil. It’s poetry, memories, or just journal entries of everyday things, I’m always writing. For the blog, I just look over past entries and get an idea. I’ll blog about some of my favorite albums, or I’ll blog about an overdose, or yoga, or I’ll do a research paper on meditation. It’s really anything and everything I like. The ghost story I published [Jolene: A Ghost Story] was originally put on my website and people liked it so much it eventually got published. I wrote a short story of a Tinder date I went on, and hundreds of hundreds of people read that. It really resonated with people, I think because of the age we are in, but so many people connected to that blog post. It’s called “Tinder Casualty.”  There’s no set thing to blog about, whatever I feel is important. I’m a writer above all else, I don’t really see a distinction between writing and music; it’s just a continuation of the same thing for me.

AJ: One of your deep cuts is “Surf Zombies.” I looked at the credits and realized you’re into Horror/Gore. Do you pull inspiration from that?

CW: After the car accident, something happened. I don’t know, I sometimes joke that when I got a blood transfusion, I think they gave me the blood of a very disturbed person. I was never really into violence or gore or horror before the crash, and afterwards there was a switch that was flipped in my head. I think it was a way of processing through the violence that had almost taken me away. I really got into Italian grindhouse horror films, with an emphasis on cannibal exploitation films. It was funny, my good friend Marcus, he lives in LA, he’s in the film industry there, he’s like a horror aficionado. He loves the horror genre with a passion. We were working together in a kitchen, and we were talking about horror films and ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ came up. He showed me the poster, and it’s some girl getting skewered through her body coming out her mouth, and I’m like ‘Wow, something about that seems so hardcore and intense and tasteless and violent and twisted.’ He came over and we watched ‘Cannibal Holocaust,’ and I just fell down the rabbit hole with that. Cannibal whatever, I’ll take it.

My songwriting has always been dark and violent, and I think that helped it. The song was originally called ‘Surf’s Up,’ which is a Beach Boys tune as well, and it has that Dick Dale, Ventures vibe. The day before I recorded it, I said ‘Fuck this, I’m calling it ‘Surf Zombies.’’ It totally changed the whole feel of the song. I started producing my own music videos, and I wanted to make a zombie video to that, but it’s got to be beach themed, so I searched for a free domain Italian horror film and found one. I think it’s called ‘The Ghost Galleon,’ and that’s where I took the scenes from. It was my first music video ever, I think it shows, but it’s still pretty funny. You’re like ‘Man, these girls are stupid, how are you going to fall down the stairs that many times?

AJ: What’s in the future?

CW: Content. More video content, more singles, I’m in the studio now working on some stuff. Promotion for the album, the album’s been out for two months now, which is great because we raised a bunch of money from the Kickstarter. Playing more live shows. The local music scene is so cool, it’s such an honor to be part of that. It’s really cool to see your friends come up, like damn dude, I love it. The San Jose music scene is amazing because people aren’t trying to tear each other down. That’s so refreshing, because so many people see other people’s successes as their failures, but the music scene here isn’t like that. It’s very inclusive. It’s different down there [LA], I’m much happier up here. There’s a deeper appreciation for art up here, just because Silicon Valley is not…it’s saturated with tech, but it’s not saturated with music and art and entertainment the way LA is. Anywhere you go, there’s five bands playing on ten band bills on a Monday night in LA, like god damn how am I going to do anything with this? Don’t get me wrong, I love LA, I had a fun time. I would love to go back, but up here I’ve found a very comfortable niche of playing, where people are very appreciative of what I do. I’m trying to take full advantage of that.

AJ: How did the Kickstarter happen?

CW: My friend Courtney, she works on the website with me. She helps me with social media. She’s an angel, a god send, I love her. I told her I’m thinking of putting this album together, and she says, ‘Oh cool, we’ll Kickstart it.’ And I said ‘Alright, great…how much do you think?’ ‘Oh, about eight grand.’ I’d never done it before, but she had helped my cousin Kickstart before because he’s an amazing singer too. It was such a rush, doing that. A little bit, then a little bit, then a snowball effect, and once I shared the story, like ‘Here’s what the album’s about: accident, car crash, pictures, drugs, overdose, redemption.’ Redemption was a big thing there. People I didn’t even know were reaching out. We raised eight grand for the Kickstarter, and then I raised two grand outside the Kickstarter, so I raised ten grand for this album. Now that the album’s out and everyone’s happy with it, I’m happy with it, I’m going to start PR for that with music videos and promos and things like that.

AJ: What was the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

CW: I have a magnet of Hunter S. Thompson in my medicine cabinet. So, I open it up every morning, I get my toothpaste, it’s up there, and it says, ‘I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.’ That was probably the best advice I got until about four years ago. You know, Ari Herstand, do you know Ari? I speak as if I know him on a very personal level, which I kind of do, like we’ve Skyped and stuff. He’s an author and a blogger, but he’s a do-it-yourself musician. He wrote a book, ‘How to Make It in the New Music Business.’ It’s a total game changer. I did a course with him and his advice is so amazing. It really changed the way I felt about music. I’ll paraphrase a couple of his words, like for one, there’s no expiration date on making it. Like you don’t have to be under a certain age, or have a certain look, you just have to keep doing it and don’t stop. Ari promotes work ethic, networking, being real, being genuine, he just really wants people to succeed. Luck has very little to do with it, and what does ‘making it’ mean? One of the best pieces of advice I took away personally was ‘What do you want to happen? Write it down, be specific, because being a rock star is too ambiguous and you’re never going to get that because what does that even mean?’ For so long, I was like ‘aww, I just want to be famous, I don’t even know what that means but I know that I’m not happy now because I don’t have this ambiguous sort of rock start thing because I don’t even know what that means,’ It’s a horrible way to live, and I know because I lived it.

 

Finding Clarity: A Short Memoir of My Yoga Practice

Finding Clarity: A Short Memoir of My Yoga Practice

At age twenty seven, I found myself in the psychiatric ward of Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California, on suicide watch. I had been addicted to drugs and alcohol on and off, though mostly on, for about a decade. My issues with depression, anxiety, self hatred, insomnia and substance abuse had brought me to the edge of an emotional cliff, one that I was ready to plunge off of and finally end my suffering. Stanford was a last ditch effort on my part to help me survive: before I killed myself, I wanted to know that I had done everything in my power to save  my life. If it didn’t work—well, at least I had tried.

I was put back on medication at the ward; I took all the meetings and classes on cognitive brain therapy, I began to meditate for a few seconds (any longer than a minute and I’d unravel back into the abyss of my fractured mind), and I took a yoga class. The class was seated, in a very basic and introductory style. Still, it calmed me, and it brought me back to my high school days, a decade earlier, when I first fell in love with the practice of yoga.

I wrestled in middle school and my freshman year. After that, I was completely turned off to the world of athletics. I’ve never cared for sports, and I refused to play them. Junior year, I walked out of gym class on the first day, went into the office and told them that I wasn’t playing sports. Whatever else there was for PE credit, I’d take. 
“Well,” one of the academic advisors said. “There’s a yoga/walking/cardio class.”
“Perfect.” I said.

I went in with no expectations whatsoever, and I fell in love with yoga almost immediately. My upper body strength from wrestling led me to advance in my personal yoga practice almost effortlessly, exponentially. I was one of the only guys in the class (the ratio was about one to fifteen, something that I still enjoy about the practice), and I began to do yoga regularly. Still, my home life was in flames, and I had started using drugs and alcohol as a way to both rebel and cope with my life. I left school at the start of my senior year, barely graduating, and began to pursue a life of music, drugs, writing, drinking, and an overall reckless abandonment of a conventional lifestyle. My yoga practice faded as I grew older. At age twenty four, a catastrophic, near death collision with a drunk driver sent me into the depths of my darkest and most dangerous downward spiral. All my life I had struggled with depression, a vicious cycle of self hatred and narcism, and by the end of my twenty seventh year, everything had built up to a volatile and deadly crescendo.

Now, in the psychiatric ward of Stanford, the medications were beginning to take hold again; I was learning techniques to effectively deal with my thoughts in a healthy way, and I once again felt the calming, grounding, comforting effects of yoga, something I had nearly forgotten. I knew then, that if I was going to survive, if I was going to turn everything around, I had to stay sober, I had to stay on my meds, and I had to start practicing yoga again. I seemed to recall that there was a studio near my house, and I promised myself that once I was released, I’d go check it out. 

I got out of Stanford and a day later I walked half a mile down the street to Bright Heart yoga studio. I picked up a schedule from the information box and walked back home. The following day, I took my first yoga class in nearly ten years. 

The day after class, I felt a healthy soreness in my shoulders and my obliques—and I was once again hooked on the practice. I began to go to the studio three times a week. Then, as my body began to adapt, to lose weight and slim down into lean muscle, I progressed to five days a week. I began to work the front desk at the studio in exchange for a membership, and my obsession with yoga sustained for over two years. 

Since day one at the studio, people had been asking me if I was a teacher. When I told them no, they asked why. It had never occurred to me to teach, I told them. My yoga practice was extremely personal and deeply introspective to me. Still, as a male practitioner of yoga, the question of teaching came up quite often. It was a mild irritation. I told myself: let me do five hundred yoga classes, then I’ll think about teaching.

Five hundred and seventy yoga classes later, I received an opportunity to partake in teacher training. I hesitantly agreed, and within three months, I had nearly completed my 200 hour training, sans teaching a full class. Still, the thought of being a yoga teacher seemed too daunting to take on. I was still wrapped up in remembering my past: years of impulsive, careless, and dangerous behavior had me anxious that I wouldn’t make a good teacher; I felt that I lacked a kind of purity to really teach. Months passed as I refused to complete my training; teaching one class was just one too many for me.

During this time, my meditation practice had grown quite expansively. I began receiving therapy from an amazing psychologist. Slowly I started to come to terms with my past, realizing that who I once was did not define who I am now. Seven hundred and fifty yoga classes later, I taught my first yoga class. After watching the video recording of my first class, I know that I am, truly, a yoga teacher. I realize now that my entire journey is what makes me a good teacher. 

I believe in yoga. I believe in the practice; I believe in the results and the benefits. And because of this, I now believe in my ability to teach. To guide others in the practice that helped save my life is an amazing honor. 

It is the start of a beautiful journey.

Hollywood, Lullaby, and Dance Through . . . A Deeper Look

Hollywood & Vine

This was the first song that I wrote coming out of Stanford, clean and sober for the first time in nearly a decade. The music was pretty, lyrical, the guitar part is pretty challenging, which I like. The steady thumb playing the rhythm independent of the other fingers, I really like that style. It reminds me of Lindsey Buckingham and Paul Simon.

The beginning lyrics came standing in line at a coffee shop; I just wrote them into my phone. I liked the rhyme scheme of the words, so I went with that. Then I went home and figured out the F major 7 to G part. The lyrics came pretty easily once the song structure became more set. Later on, I was showing what I had written to Luke Reilly when we had gotten back together as Funk & Wagnall, and he asked me "Where's the bridge?"
"What's a bridge?" I asked him jokingly, and then I just busted out the E minor to C part, and it stuck. "Oh, there it is," I said. I recorded an early version of the song at Henry Rust's place in LA, with some sweet mics of his and a mellow atmospheric vibe. I still like that recording. The finished version in the studio is a favorite track of mine, and also a favorite among the crowd reviews that we submitted to.

 Lullaby for the Devil                                                    

I wrote the music to Lullaby for the Devil the same night that I wrote the music to Broken Girl, in my LA apartment, when I was living with my brother Greg. Dark and violent times, post car crash, broken and scared, sick and addicted to all kinds of self destructive vices. I was in the death throes of a twisted and toxic love affair with a girl named Claire, and it was already taking its toll on me. The song's melody stayed with me for five years while I fucked around with the structure, the lyrics, the key, the tempo, etc. Finally I added the D minor part towards the end and it eventually fell into place one night, the same night that I recorded Dance Through the Fire for the first time in my home studio. "Lullaby" is my guitar playing nod to Robert Quine of Richard Hell and the Voidoids: the ferocious kind of biting guitar tone, especially towards the end. The guitar noise during the outro of the song is somewhat symbolic of the madness I went through in LA: my mind falling apart, coming undone. This song is dark. But you already knew that.

Dance Through the Fire

What initially began as a guitar practice warm up in A minor eventually grew into Dance Through the Fire. It began at age 22; I kept adding new parts to it, always returning to the main hook, and the song didn't see it's full completion until six years later. "Dance" is very rhythmically and technically advanced for me as a guitarist. It's got a raw punk and latin feel to it, which is great. It had lyrics briefly, earlier on, but I could never really figure it out as a whole song. And then the home studio happened, and I started messing around with it. I ended up recording what would become the definitive song structure for both "Lullaby" and "Dance" in the same night. My grandmother had just died, and the funeral had been only a few days prior to my recording this. It was an intense and soul bearing experience; I felt her energy with me as I recorded the song from start to finish, something I had never been able to do. I reached inside and pulled out music that I had never known I could play. It was beautiful and it was real.

The drum part was also conceived and produced in my home studio: a minimalist kind of tasteful track to compliment the guitar part. Obviously, when Austin got his hands on it, he was able to enhance and tighten up my ideas, adding in some of his own. This song is an instrumental testament to my sobriety, in that I could never play it when I was using. It was too advanced for me. I have played "Dance Through the Fire" perfectly, without any fuck ups, maybe twice in my whole life. The song is so challenging that even completely sober, I almost always miss one or two things. It's another reason for me to stay clean, knowing that the healthier I am, the more likely I am to nail the song, and continue challenging myself with my writing and playing. On the album, I kept writing songs that pushed certain boundaries of mine, whether it was sound and tone, tempo and overall mix, or just lead runs on the guitar. Dance Through the Fire is a complex song, one that makes the album a little more distinctive of my style.

Lyrics to Hollywood & Vine

She says that it's not me
no clarity in desperate times like these
I try to feel complete but I can't compete
with her insanity

She tells me it's alright
I don't have to fight the hate inside my heart
but every time I cross that line
I'm right back where I started

and I try to call her name again
but I just fall away again
and I'm trying to stay clean again
but I'll just fuck it up again

I take my medicine
she lets me in and I black out on her floor
she says she's gonna leave
but she's told me that a thousand times before

I take my time
try to define what makes me feel like I'm alive
but in my mind
slow suicide's the only way to die

and I try to clear my head again
but I'm too far away again
and I'm looking for my closest friend
but he's nowhere to be found again

these days are killing me
can't seem to breathe and I can't find the door
I walk through dreams, inside routines
that bring me lower than before

coffee and cigarettes
loss and regret, this taste inside my mouth
if I stay just one more day
I know I'll never make it out, and

I'll try to run away again
I need to just stay gone again
and I'll never call her name again
goodbye Los Angeles, my friend

Lyrics to Lullaby for the Devil

How can I save you girl, can’t even save myself
she says she loves me more than anybody else
I don’t believe her words but I believe her mouth
get myself inside, then I can’t get back out

how can I trust you girl, when the lights go dark
standing in my room I tear myself apart
I’m looking for my pills, she’s looking for her man
I try to hold her close, do the best that I can

but every dream is the same, in a different way
got myself to blame, I got myself to . . . 
but every dream’s the same, in a different way
got myself to blame, you know I want to

how can I love you girl, don’t even know my name
she tells me one more time, then she’s here to stay
she wanna hold my hand, she need a little kiss
you ask me what I want, ain’t nothing close to this

how can I quit you girl, her body’s like a drug
she’s got me hooked so hard, now I can’t get enough
she says she wants me all, I hear her call my name
but jealousy is the sweat that’s running down my face

and every drug is the same, in a different way
you know they’re all the same, I know it all is
every drug is the same, running through my veins
and they’re all the same, you know I want this

LA seems so far away
Michelle seems so far away
the crash seems so far away
but Claire seems just like yesterday

Dance Through the Fire

A Deeper Look at the Songs in Bleed Out

Bleed Out is an album that was years in the making. Some of the songs are nearly a decade old, and between the time I wrote them and when I actually recorded them, I had changed significantly, many times over. The fact that these songs stayed with me through everything is proof of their importance to me personally; the songs have changed with me, they’ve grown and remained relevant to who I was and who I am now. Not all songs do that. I throw away a lot of songs because they just don't feel real to me anymore.

The whole album is a story. It’s dark, sometimes violent, deeply introspective, and intensely personal. It reflects on my struggles with drugs, depression, and toxic relationships. It deals with self doubt, the dichotomy of my narcism vs self hatred, and slightly touches on my new life of sobriety and stability. Bleed Out explores many different styles of music: it’s a rock album, though there are many types of genres that can be heard.

I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts detailing each specific song on the album, individually, in album order. These posts will give insight to anyone who wants to know the backstory of the album and the songs: who I was when I wrote them,  how the songs evolved and made it onto the album, and how they’ve changed since their first conception.

October                                                                   

Let me start from the beginning. I wrote the song "October" when I was 21 years old. I was living in Boulder, Colorado, trying to make it with my band "the Shoes!", living in the drummer's parent's house. Strange and difficult times; we lived together for a year, and in that year we played a lot of shows, and drank and fought way too much. Everything seemed to fall apart. The band eventually split, and "October" is the only song I wrote during that year that I kept. I wrote it on the first day of October 2008 (hence the title, go figure), in a kind of Chili Peppers/Dispatch groove. Fall has always been an intoxicating time of year for me. It’s symbolic in the change of seasons; trees start to die, night comes sooner, days grow colder. There’s a kind of rush that October brings me every year. It’s darkly fascinating and intoxicating. The song stayed with me after I left Boulder and moved to California, though I rarely ever played it—it was just a painful reminder of that time period, which I perceived as a failed attempt at musical success.

Years later, I was giving a radio interview for KKUP, in Cupertino, California, and in a spur of the moment decision, I decided to play the song live on the radio. I stated, "I think this is going to be the opening track on my next album." It seemed to make sense at the time; it just slipped out, and I eventually followed through with that promise when Bleed Out became a real project. 

“October” was the very beginning of the creative process that would become the Bleed Out Room Recordings. I had just started putting together my home recording studio after finally getting sober, and I began to work on the different parts of the song, playing the guitar, bass, and drums individually, and working on the vocals and harmonies. It was essentially a practice in experimentation that allowed me to work on the song’s parts while getting comfortable with my new studio recording equipment. I had separated from my bassist Bob Lanz just prior to the early recordings of the track, which left me to compose and record the bass myself. Months later, my drum and bass parts still left a lot to be desired, which is where drummer Austin Vidonn and bassist Keith Shacklett came in.

Keith Shacklett is a bass virtuoso, a Berklee College of Music grad, and an amazing musician overall. He and I recorded together years ago in Colorado, when we did early demos of “Upper Hermosa Mtn Blues,” “Near Death,” and a few other songs I had written. I reconnected with him during the early stages of the album’s creation, and although he was too busy to actually record the album with me, Keith helped out significantly with ideas, ideas that I used while recording the bass tracks on the album. Keith told me with confidence, “I’m sure you can just record the bass yourself, Casey.” So I stepped up and did exactly that. The bass line for “October” was the hardest on the entire album for me to figure out and play. The amount of notes and the speed with which I play them was a serious challenge. “October” definitely turned me into a bassist during the creation and recording of the album.

So now, nearly ten years later, I finally recorded the definitive version of the song. Austin’s drum line is far better than anything I could’ve come up with, though we worked on most of the parts together. I was mainly stuck on the verse section, which Austin figured out prior to recording in the studio. To start the whole album out with this song was very symbolic for me; being able to take a song that was once too painful to play, and turning it into the lead track for my entire album. 

Lyrics:

Keep in mind, 
all I ever wanted was to tell myself that I'm just fine
in these signs of times
these dead leaves send shivers up my spine
but they're just passing by
and I'm seeing ghosts out the corner of my eyes
maybe one last time
this whole thing's gonna make me lose my mind
and I take my time

understand, 
all I ever wanted was to tell myself that I'm a man
that can comprehend
all these things that make me what I am
and that this master plan
will bring me love and the beauty of my friends
which never ends
time won't break and neither will it bend
and I look within

keep in line
what I miss the most about you must be your eyes
I'm just killing time
trees they scream and birds refuse to fly
under these red skies
am I right, or did I miss these signs
right before my eyes
in my bed unconscious I will lie
for another time

St. Patrick’s Day at the Brit

Four years ago, I was sitting outside the Britannia Arms in Cupertino with my attorney and bassist Bob Lanz. The Brit is only a few blocks from my house, and when I used to drink and smoke, I spent a lot of time there. Bob and I had played several shows at the Brit since I’d come back up from LA, so everyone there knew me through my music, too.

Morgan, the Irish bartender, came up to Bob and I outside. 

“Eh boys,” he said in his thick Irish drawl. “De band dat plays 'er on Saint Paddy’s day just canceled on me. If I gave ye guys tree hundred dollars, and all ye can drink, do ye think ye could learn a bunch of Irish tunes in under two weeks?” 

“How long would the set be?” I asked him. 

“Tree hours, and ye guys could take breaks.”

I looked at Bob, who shrugged. 

“Sure,” I said to Morgan. “We’ll do that for you. I know some guys that would be down to play, too.” 

“Oh boys, yer savin my ass. Tank you.” Morgan said.

“I need your help figuring out some Irish songs, though, Morgan.” I said. “You know a lot more than I do. I can’t think of a single one.”

“Oh, I know em all. Dirty Old Town, Whisky in the Jar—”

“Cockles and Mussels,” Bob chimed in. 

“Dat’s a good one.” Morgan concurred.

I had my notebook near me. I put out my cigarette and started listing the song titles. I hadn’t heard of any of these songs. Soon I had committed to learning eleven Irish songs for St. Patrick’s Day, the biggest day of the year at the Brit, all in under two weeks. “But hey,” I thought as Bob and I took down another pitcher. “I am, after all, a professional.” 

I set to work streaming the songs, researching more on youtube, just googling “Irish drinking songs.” A bunch came up, and I soon had a nice set list: Spanish Lady, Finnegan’s Wake, Seven Drunken Nights, Cockles and Mussels, Black Velvet Band, Dirty Old Town, Galway Girl. The songs sounded good, with a lot of lyrics. I couldn’t possibly memorize all of them, but I figured I’d print them out for the show. I wanted to throw some Paul Simon and Johnny Cash into the set as well. I knew those songs would go over nicely, too.

I was working as a prep cook at a wine bar in downtown Los Gatos; I had the whole place to myself in the afternoons, so I’d listen to the songs over and over and make mental notes. Bob and I rehearsed in the park near my house, and at the Brit, where we would drink and eat on the house while we went through the songs. Morgan was super grateful. St. Patrick’s Day was closing in on us. I set to work on putting together my Irish band. 

I knew a few players from the Bay Area open mic circuit: Autumn Rose Thompson played a mean banjo; George Paolini played mandolin and harmonica; a friend of ours at the Brit, Chance, played the violin. I met up with each of them individually and rehearsed the set with them. No one really knew each other when we showed up at the Brit on St. Patrick’s Day. I had called us “Casey Wickstrom & the Irish Rogues."

I had to run the soundboard, which was a real pain on top of it all. I don’t like running sound for big shows—I’d much rather have someone else do it, and take the pressure off of me. That way I can just focus on the music. But, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Robbie, the sound guy, was out of town. On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone in the band showed up at the Brit. I got them all introduced to one another, and then we hit the stage. I EQ’d the band, and we blew the place away. The night flew by in a rush of drinking, shouting, singing, playing, energetic musical frenzy. After the show, Morgan came up.

“Brilyant, boys! Ye all were fuckin’ brilyant! Can you do this ev’ry year fer me? I want ye all back here again.”

“Fuck yeah, dude.” I told him. We had just scored an annual party show at my favorite neighborhood pub.

Fast forward to the next year: Chance was up at law school in Davis, so we were out a fiddle player, but Autumn and George joined Bob and I for another successful show. The year after that, George was working on his new album, so he couldn’t play with us. I reached out again to the wonderful Autumn Rose Thompson, the Rogue's banjo player, to see if she could rustle up some new players to jam with us. Autumn is a banjo gypsy queen who has played with everyone in the Bay Area. She invited her two friends Tom Sullivan and Robin Fish to play mandolin and fiddle, respectively. I took on harmonica duty on top of guitar and vocals. Bob, as always, held it down on the bass. This line up would become the regular players in the Irish Rogues, and this year, we’ll be back at the Brit. St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sat (!!!), so this one will be particularly rocking.

A few of the songs that we play have a special place in my heart. One of them is our rendition of “Dirty Old Town/Wish You Were Here.” I remember Bob and I sitting out in the sun, in the grassy park near my house, playing through the tune. Suddenly, I had an idea.

“Check this out,” I said to Bob, as I weaved in Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” with the melody and chorus of the original English miner’s song. 

“Whoa, that’s awesome.” Bob said.

I showed the songs to the other band members, and they loved it. It’s our favorite song. One of the things that I love about this band, and the Irish set, which gets better every year, is how we’re able to take these classic songs and slightly modernize them for our audience. There’s some classic old Irish sounds in our playing, but we take some liberties with the songs, incorporating some country and even some rock into them. I like the way that the set flows from song to song, with jams and singalongs and Irish ballads. 

This will be my fourth year performing at the Brit for St. Patrick’s Day. It just gets better and better. Hope to see you there.

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 Bob and I outside the Brit.

Bob and I outside the Brit.

 Me and the Irish Rogues, circa 2018.

Me and the Irish Rogues, circa 2018.

Eminence Front, part one

(Note: this is about an upcoming single of mine, a looping cover of the Who's "Eminence Front," with me on cigar box slide guitar, bass, vocals, and drums. It's coming out in 2018.)

Eminence Front: I saw the Who at Shoreline amphitheater in Mountain View in 2002 when I was thirteen years old. It was the first show they played after their bassist John Entwistle had died. It was an emotional and amazing show, and it was a defining moment of my life. I remember looking up at the sky when Roger Daltrey was wailing “Love Reign O’er Me,” and thinking, “I am going to play music for the rest of my life.” 

One of the songs they played that I had never heard before was Eminence Front. Pete Townsend led this orchestral score that intensified and grew, and by the time it all kicked in, it was this flowing and intricate, deeply layered song. 

Fast forward from 2002 to 2017. I made my very own cigar box guitar with my good friend Teddy Randazzo Jr, of Dazzo pickups fame, and I began looping a dark and bluesy song, with a bass line that held down the track nicely. I began to add more layers, bit by bit, like a delay and a wah that matched the rhythm. This song that I was working on was heavily influenced by my friends in the band Aotearoa; these guys are the big influence on my looping. This whole song is kind of of a shout out to them.

The song’s buildup became really cool, and I thought about what to do with it. In a flash of insight, I thought about Eminence Front. I looked up the lyrics, listened to the Who track a few times, and set to work. It took about a week or so for me to have a structure with the loop pedal that I felt was really tight. This song was a game changer for me, because it was a whole musical experience live looping; the audience saw me build this song from nothing into this flowing, layered song, much like I had seen Pete Townsend do nearly two decades before. 

Quick note: my electric guitar is an American made Schecter Telecaster, the Pete Townsend model from the 80s, and it just so happens to be the guitar that he plays on the Eminence Front video. I didn’t know that until very recently. I had fallen in love with the guitar in high school before even knowing it was the Pete Townsend model. It just made sense that this was how it went. 

Anyways, I had a weekly residency at Forager in downtown San Jose for the month of October, and they wanted to do a promo video of me playing to some studio recorded tracks. So I went into this really nice studio in a church in Fremont and recorded Eminence Front, and a solo rendition of Grindhouse Blues and Broken Girl. The video was never competed, but I had this really awesome take of Eminence Front. I decided to mess around with a drum line, once again, evoking the sound of Aotearoa. I have the drums at my home studio, so I started writing a drum line, which took a few months to nail down. The song is over five minutes long, and there’s a lot of parts to it. This is the sickest, baddest drum part I’ve ever recorded, and that’s because it evolved over a period of nearly four months. When the time was right, I reached back out to Anthony at the church studio and set up some time to track the drums.

I've only ever played this song live, but it's become a staple song of my shows. I'm stoked to bring it to you soon.

I go in tomorrow to record. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Ocean

Dream:

I stop for gas along highway one, on the California coast. It's an old fashioned gas station, with antique pumps and a small, shack like building where you pay. It's set up on the edge of this sheer drop cliff that gives a view of the ocean hundreds of feet below. My girlfriend and road tripping companion Dawn waits in the car while I go inside to pay for the gas. It's a sublimely pleasant late afternoon, the sun is beginning to make its descent, playing off the ocean in sparkling flashes of blues, reds, and gold.

I go inside and there's a little asian lady sitting at the desk; there's an old fashioned cash register, made of heavy bulky iron that rests in front of her. The place is plain and tiny. I pay for the gas and ask to use the restroom. She points to a door in the back of the small building, the only other room in the place, and says "You can use it. But be careful -- the tide's coming in."

I step into the tiny gas station bathroom, there's windows to my left, along the wall, big windows that are open and let in the sea breeze. I look out a window for a moment and notice that the waves of the ocean, which a moment ago were at the bottom of this gigantic cliff, are now pushing up against the side of the house. We are now at sea level. "The tide is coming in," I remember the lady told me. The waves are big, white and frothy, strong and powerful; I can feel their force against the creaky old building. The sea water begins to rise into the bathroom through the floorboards. I move over to the corner between the sink and the toilet, my shoes now wet, but not soaked, and I'm wondering how I'm going to take a piss while all this water is rising from the bathroom floor. Stand on the toilet seat, aim carefully? (I think this in the dream.) The sea water outside is now nearly at the height of the windows, the force of the waves is massive.

There's a gigantic cracking sound -- the waves jolt the bathroom violently, suddenly ripping it apart from the rest of the building and dropping it into the ocean. "Shit. Like a pulled tooth," I think in the dream. Lost for a moment in this box of sound and sudden confusion, I feel the onset of panic begin to kick in, realizing that I'm about to be swallowed up by the sea. The sea: I visualize the endless expanse of the ocean in my mind: the unfathomable depths and amazing force of the ocean, the ocean: unflinching mammoth waves that will swallow me up with their power, I experience a modicum of the boundless strength of mother nature. The helplessness that man has against the earth, the environment. The sea has grabbed me and is taking me away. 

But panic doesn't set in -- my mind snaps to survival mode: I race towards the windows as a wall of ocean blots them in darkness, water furiously rushes through them in freezing salty deluges. I'm rocking violently in this little gas station bathroom, but I have to get out. "The windows, the door -- the door! Open it up, get out and swim!" I'll die, probably. A quick momentary flash of the current daily news: hurricanes in Florida, massive flooding in Texas, angry ocean, rising tide . . . The water in the bathroom is rising rapidly; I see myself swimming for my life, trying to reach dry ground, while furious ocean waves the size of buildings pull me back in. I know that the whole ocean is out there, and I know that I am nothing against it. But still, I am going to try to get out of this scenario and swim, and fight, and try to survive, even if it leads to my death. I reach for the door, ready to wrench it open -- ready to go up against the entire sea, man versus nature -- my hand touches the knob.

And then I wake up.

Bleed Out: A Deeper Look

Okay, so here's the deal. Six years ago this month (August), I was nearly killed by a drunk driver. She was going the wrong way on a freeway offramp in LA. I broke my knee, my arm, my back, my spleen was removed, they had to solder my liver back together, my face was ripped apart, I needed a blood transfusion . . . I spent the next four years after that spiraling down into drug addiction and suicidal depression, trying to stay alive while I wrote and recorded all the music I could. At age twenty seven, after a failed suicide attempt, I was admitted to Stanford Psychiatric Ward in Palo Alto. I was put back on meds, and I started doing yoga in the ward. When I got out, I had to stay sober and healthy, and I began to practice yoga and put together a home recording studio.

My newest album "Bleed Out" deals with the aftermath of the crash; from my drug addiction to my sobriety, from my self-loathing to my eventual self acceptance. It's a deeply introspective, dark and personal album that I began to conceptualize after Stanford. Many of these songs have been with me for a while, and just never got completed until now. This album covers a lot of ground stylistically: from dark and driving blues to latin infused punk rock, from grunge and metal to mellow acoustic grooves. I've spent the majority of my time working on this album, and it's finally ready to be recorded. I wanted to get my friends and family involved in the making of "Bleed Out," because it really means so much to me.

I'm working with a drummer, Austin Vidonn, on the album. We're at 11% of our Kickstarter goal of $8,000 already, which is great, but we still have a long way to go. Help me make this a reality. Love you guys.

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Bleed Out: A New Album

I'm working on a brand new album. It's called Bleed Out, and it's set to be recorded in late August of this year. This will my first full length album in nearly four years. Sure, I've released a bunch of singles, a lot of recordings with Funk & Wagnall, and I've been pumping out a lot of music videos and blogs, but a lot has changed since my last album Desperate Times in 2013.

For one, I'm working with a drummer, one of the best drummers I've ever played with. His name is Austin Vidonn. He and I played in a band called the Shoes! in Colorado when I was eighteen. Austin and I share a strong musical connection, and we both have the same drive for the music. We reconnected two years ago when he recorded a new percussion track on my song "Secret." When I began to piece together the songs for Bleed Out, I knew that I wanted Austin in on the album. Rhythm is in this guy's blood -- he's a stoic, sturdy, rhythmic machine. Austin lives in Colorado, but thanks to the power of the web, and my home recording studio, I'm able to flesh out ideas and work these songs out with him as if he was living next door. I've also made a few undercover trips to Colorado to rehearse the album with him. These songs are his songs, too. He's completely committed himself to this album.

Another big change is the studio that we're recording in. We're recording at Scooter's Place, in Durango, Colorado. I worked with Scooter (Scott), the owner and sound engineer, when I was twenty years old. My band Strange New Shoes recorded a full length album called Dig This. Scooter's studio is absolutely top notch, and he and I really connected during the production and recording of the album. I'm incredibly stoked to work with Scooter again. This will be the cleanest, most consistent and professional album that I've made thus far. 

You may be thinking: Casey, you have your own home studio, why don't you just do the album there? For a lot of reasons -- mainly, I want the album to be the best it can be. I can record demo tracks and mix singles just fine in my home studio, but as far as taking on an entire album, and the amount of work and fundamental tech knowledge that goes into that -- well, I'll just leave that to a pro. And Scooter is a total pro.

However, I will be releasing a collection of Room Recordings. It features early takes of all the album tracks, with me on every instrument in my home studio. You can hear how the album evolved, and get a better idea of the writing process; you can hear what I was thinking when I was writing this album. The Bleed Out Room Recordings are a Kickstarter incentive -- more on that a little later.

Most of the songs on Bleed Out will be new; no one will have ever heard most of the tracks. There will be two songs that many people will be familiar with, and those are "Hope" and "Upper Hermosa Mtn Blues." I recorded those two songs in my early twenties, and I never felt like I was able to do them justice. They sound like demos (which they were at the time), and I've always wanted to record a definitive, professional version of those two songs. Under Scott's watch in the studio, and with Austin's percussion, I know that I can bring them to the level they deserve to be at. 

This album has been a culmination of some intense life changes, over a long period of time. Bleed Out covers a wide landscape of my life -- I've spent the better part of a year figuring out how the songs will work, both individually and as a whole. This album has come to life after two years of sobriety, meditation, yoga, school, and the construction of my home studio in Cupertino, California. I've spent countless hours figuring out the parts on each instrument, recording them, sending them to Austin, experimenting with tempo, arrangements, layers, tone . . . These songs all finally rose up to the surface, the album began to take shape, and I ran with it. 

I want all our friends to be involved in this experience. We're working on a Kickstarter campaign, with all kinds of cool stuff if you contribute. I know there's people that have been waiting a long time for a new CW album, and I'm stoked to be able to finally deliver it. Pitch in what you want, or what you can, and know that every cent will go towards making this album, and everything that follows it, a reality.

More to come.

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Lap Slide Guitar & Folsom Prison Blues

Playing a regular guitar turned over on my lap wasn't an intentional attempt at originality. I simply didn't have any money for a real lap slide -- I could barely afford to eat at age twenty -- so I made my own. I was helping my friend Scott move out of his parent's house, and he had this piece of shit Korean guitar, a Tanaka, that he was going to pawn off. I told him to give it to me instead, which he did, and I raised the action on the guitar (the action is the space between the strings and the neck of the guitar) and converted it into a lap slide. I was amazed at how good it sounded.

It's less common to play an regular acoustic guitar like a lap slide, as opposed to a dobro, which is a pretty common instrument in bluegrass and country music. Dobros generally have a square neck and a very twangy, high resonance sound. The cool thing about converting a regular acoustic is that you don't have any of that twang; it's not bluegrass-sounding -- instead it's got a deep tone and it's bluesy and more rock-sounding.  (Note: "Dobro" is an actual company that makes lap steel resonator guitars, but a lot of musicians use the name in a general sense to identify a lap slide guitar.)

Growing up in Colorado, there was a pretty prominent bluegrass scene; some of my friends played dobro, and I liked what they were doing with it. I like bluegrass, but I don't really play it. My main influences on the lap slide are (in order of influence) 1. Ben Harper 2. Xavier Rudd 3. Jack White and 4. Morphine (the band). 

I still have the same lap slide that Scott gave me. I've broken it half a dozen times; twice on purpose. My friend Henry Rust in LA finally fixed it for good with some bolts and washers on the headstock, to keep it from cracking. It's got a lot of personality. I tune it to a really open drone, influenced by early Velvet Underground and the band Morphine. It only has two notes, a first and a fifth note, generally Eb and Bb, and that's it.

If I had to choose, I'd say my favorite song on the lap slide is my cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Here's how that came about:

I had just turned twenty, and I was playing in a band called Strange New Shoes in Durango, Colorado. I had just assembled my lap slide, and I was messing around with it. I went out into the mountains, deep into the woods with two of my friends, and we took some acid. This dose was some of the purest LSD I've ever tried: it was an out of body, near spiritual experience. I played my lap slide for four or five hours, almost non stop, and it completely changed the way that I thought about music. It felt like I was playing the guitar backwards and upside down; I was totally reworking my brain on this new experimental instrument I had made. I really learned how to play the lap slide that day. It was such a rhythmic instrument for me more than anything else; really percussive when I got into it.

The musical waves were moving me hard, and I started putting together this melody in my head, and figuring it out on the lap slide. It became the crying, sorrowful, melodic solo to Folsom Prison, although I didn't know that then. The acid was so intense that I'd figure out a small part of the melody and then I'd have to stop and take a walk to breathe again. And then I'd trip out on a flower -- or see myself outside of myself, tripping on a flower -- and then I'd hear a little bit more of the solo, like it was a bird singing to me, and I'd go back to the lap slide and work it out, bit by bit, until I had this cohesive and really beautiful musical part. 

By the time I had figured out the solo and was comfortable with playing it over and over, it was night time in the woods. We built a fire, and I kept playing. I suddenly became aware that I was playing in open E, and I knew that Johnny Cash's song Folsom Prison Blues was just a 1, 4, 5 chord progression; that is, E, A, and B. Without thinking at all, I picked a few notes on the bottom strings, and out came the classic introduction to Johnny Cash's most famous song. It was fate, I felt, like the song had chosen me or something. 

I had learned to fingerpick by studying Paul Simon, playing his Simon and Garfunkel guitar arrangements, and I had just started getting into Lindsay Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac, so I started picking on the lap slide and going through the chords of the Johnny Cash tune. This was the very first time that I had incorporated fingerpicking into my lapslide playing. It was around the end of the night when the song came together. I recorded it two years later, after the band had broken up, and I was preparing to move to California and start over as a solo artist.

People sometimes tell me that they like my version better than the original. I don't know about that. But I will say that I think my take on it does the original song justice. I think Johnny Cash would like it. I grew up listening to Johnny Cash; I love his music, and he has a special place in my heart.

I enjoy playing covers on the lap slide because I make the song my own -- there's very little resemblance to the original song, and the only reason it's a cover is because I've made it a cover. The song Teen Spirit, off of my album Desperate Timesis a good example of that, too. The song came to me in much the same way as Folsom Prison did: under a heavy current of controlled substances. One minute I was jamming, and the next, it was like I woke up and was playing a Nirvana song on the lap slide. It just came to me, nothing was forced.

It's kind of unfortunate that so many of my songs have come to me while I was under the influence, but I'm grateful that I was able to take something from the experiences that I've had and create some positive art from it. I've learned that I was able to create my music in spite of my drug use, not because of it. These songs would have found their way to me eventually. Now that I'm sober (I just passed two years clean -- fucking crazy), I'm pushing the limits of what I can play every day, and there's nothing holding me back stylistically. 

Here's the Johnny Cash song. And the Nirvana one, too. I hope you like them.

Peace.

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A Little Bit On Music

This all started with my mother. The first music I ever heard was Paul Simon's Graceland. That album came out in 1986; I was born in 1987. My mother would rock me to sleep listening to that album, every night. 

I remember Paul Simon, Dolly Parton, and the Beach Boys. My mother's favorite band is the Beach Boys, so they're one of my favorite bands, too. By the time I was seven, I knew the artists by name and had memorized some of their songs. My mother's taste in music was the earliest and most impactful influence I've had. By age seven, I was obsessively listening to Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, and Simon & Garfunkel. I didn't know that Paul Simon was the same Simon that was in Simon & Garfunkel. I thought that nobody could have that much music. It's still kind of insane to me how much music Paul Simon has. Paul Simon is the reason that I play music.

I recall being seven years old, standing on the playground outside of school, leaning against a post, like Paul Simon on the insert of Graceland. He's wearing glasses in the picture, and I had glasses, too -- big dorky frames -- and I felt kind of cool wearing them. A little girl came up and asked me what my name was. "Paul Simon," I told her. 

At seven years old, there was a soundtrack that would totally change my life. My mother had the soundtrack to Pretty Woman, the movie with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. That album was actually a fucking rocking playlist: it had a bunch of stellar artists that I'd never heard of before. That album introduced me to Roy Orbison, David Bowie, Go North, Iggy Pop, and, most importantly, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I remember thinking what a cool band name that was, as I listened to their song "Show Me Your Soul." That song was like biting on an electric wire each time I heard it. I loved it. Seven years old and listening to the Chili Peppers. If Paul Simon was the reason I played music, then the Chili Peppers were the reason I played in a band. I listened to that compilation album nonstop, along with all the other artists that my mother had in her cd collection. 

My friend Dustin, whom I had grown up with since age six, was the other huge musical influence that I had growing up. It was Dustin who turned me on to Ben Harper and Xavier Rudd -- the two biggest influences on my slide playing -- he also got me into the Flaming Lips, the White Stripes, Beck, the Pixies, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Nick Drake, Neutral Milk Hotel, Morphine, and a bunch of other bands. That guy really expanded my mind. Even today, when I'm writing a new song, I'll ask myself, "Would Dustin think this song was cool?" If the answer is yes, then I keep working on it.

Marc Arbeeny was the third biggest musical influence I had. I wrote a long blog about him here

I get asked a lot what kind of music I listen to. I try not to say the regular "Oh, I like everything." I hate it when people say that. There's a lot of music that I don't like. Still, my taste in music, at this point in my life, is very eclectic. Just the other day, I put my ipod on shuffle, and I smiled as it jumped from Bach to the Beastie Boys, from Hank Williams to Lamb of God, from the Fugees to Frank Zappa, Aretha Franklin to the Misfits, Dave Brubeck to Garth Brooks, Leadbelly to System of a Down to the Everly Brothers . . . The only thing I don't really listen to is rap. I think that rap is so much more of a cultural statement than a musical genre, and I've just never identified with it. I don't want to force a connection with music that I just can't feel or relate to. That said, I do have Straight Out of Compton by NWA. Everyone should. And there's some some hip hop that I am into: Public Enemy, Outkast, Fugees -- although these artists bridge the gap between hip hop and rap effortlessly. POS is a personal favorite hip hop artist of mine. He's lesser known, perhaps; he's in the same musical realm as Slug and Atmosphere.

People ask me where I find new music. My answer is 88.9 KXLU Los Angeles. It's a college radio station out of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. I fell in love with KXLU when I lived in LA; it was constantly playing in my car and in my apartment. They have everything, and I'm not exaggerating. Vinyl avant-garde music, classical, old school ska, salsa, ambient noise, kids songs, sub pop garage rock, hardcore, girl rock, folk punk, lo-fi jazz . . . each show is entirely unique and different. I've fallen down musical rabbit holes that I never would have gone into had it not been for KXLU. Just stream it online, day or night, and I guarantee you'll hear some shit you've never heard before.

I enjoy it when people reach out to me and want to talk about music. I felt compelled to write this to kind of explain my early musical roots and answer some general questions that I get asked pretty frequently. I wanted to share, and it feels good just to write about music. Keep hitting me up with questions and comments; I love hearing from you guys.

Peace.

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Reservoir Dogs; The Specials; VOODOO GLOW SKULLS

I often overlook the major influence that Joe McCormack had on me. He lived just up the hill from my house in Hermosa Valley, outside of Durango, Colorado. His garage was a crammed up miracle of cardboard box mathematical architecture. His father was a fire fighter, a big, tall guy with long hair, and a deep voice. His family had like five identical Shitzus that would run all over the house, looking cute as fuck. I never really figured out how many there were, they all looked the same to me, and they were all over the place.

Joe was a year above me; he and I started hanging out my junior year of high school, after we played an impromptu bluegrass show for the school. Joe played stand up bass in the high school orchestra, and he and I had been tasked with opening up for a touring bluegrass band that was stopping by the school. Joe and I put a few musicians together, and I compiled a set list that included some Johnny Cash and some bluegrass-infused Bob Marley covers. I also wrote an original bluegrass song about drug sniffing dogs coming to the high school (it was actually a current event at the time), and how you'd better leave your drugs at home -- "Or better yet, don't do them at all," my mother wisely suggested. I ended up using her lyric, playing it safe. Joe was a great musician; he was easy to play with, and he was funny -- we laughed our asses off when we hung out. Our sense of humor was very like minded. 

Joe liked to party in high school. I had heard that he once went to school and drank a whole bottle of watermelon vodka. At the time, watermelon vodka sounded delicious to me. I have changed since then. But we'd smoke cigars together and play some ska songs that I wrote (ska and reggae songs -- I still hadn't found my own style back then), and some bluegrass jams, Joe playing on his huge standup bass in his tiny attic room on the top story of his house. 

"Have you ever seen Reservoir Dogs?" Joe asked me one afternoon. I said I hadn't. Joe immediately put his VHS copy into his VCR, and we watched one of the coolest movies ever made. I was blown away by the style, the dialogue, the ferociousness and violence of the film. It was so fucking bad ass, it made you feel cool just watching it. Reservoir Dogs is my favorite Tarantino film. I like it even more than I like Pulp Fiction -- there are scene that I can do without in Pulp, but Reservoir Dogs is all killer, no filler. It's 90 minutes of pure cool that blows you away, and leaves you stunned. To this day, it's one of my top ten favorite movies. Thanks, Joe.

Joe and I played ska together, a Reel Big Fish type ska, with upbeat and funny sarcastic youth-aimed lyrics. We played with my drummer Stephen, whom I had played with for years at that point, in a band called the Kriminals (spelled with a K -- how original). I wrote the song "Trazodone" while I was jamming with those guys. Joe introduced me to the Specials, the original ska band. One of my favorite ska albums instantly became the Specials self titled. As soon as the guitar and harmonica came in on "A Message to You, Rudy", I was hooked on that classic vinyl kind of old school ska. The Specials were huge to me -- such a cool band. I began to write songs with that kind of feel, so now I was listening to the Specials and Reel Big Fish for my ska fix. 

But then Joe turned me onto another ska band, this one was a hard-core punk-ska band. He told me when we were jamming in his room: "You know, there's other types of ska besides Real Big Fish and the Specials. Have you ever heard of the Voodoo Glow Skulls?" I said no, and he placed a cd in his stereo and pressed play. Then I was slapped in the face with the tight metal distortion guitar, the horns and hardcore vocal delivery, and the tight, lightning-fast punk drums that was the Voodoos. It blew my mind. "This album is called the Band Geek Mafia," Joe told me. He let me borrow the album, just like he had let me borrow the Specials, and I really got into it. 

Today, I've seen the Voodoo Glow Skulls live maybe six times. I love their shows. I'm actually seeing them in June at the Ritz downtown. Every time I've seen them it's a great show. But to me, their most memorable concert was the first time I saw them.

It was maybe three or four years after Joe had first showed me the band, and I was down in Tucson, Arizona, with my semi-girlfriend Kelly, during a month long roadtrip. I saw on a poster that the Voodoo Glow Skulls were playing in town. When? That very night. It was perfect. I was so stoked to see them; Kelly and I picked up tickets at some CVS or someplace for $15 bucks each -- I bought everything on that road trip -- and we picked up some beer from a pizza place. The young cute girls behind the counter never ID'd me, which was good, because I was twenty. I love cute pizza girls. I have a real connection with them. That night Kelly drove us to this little sports bar where the show was. I slammed five of the beers in the car, heavy IPAs, and took a hit of acid before the show. What happened after that was an amazing experience of acid infused drunk mosh pitting electrical stimulation of metal ska punk.

Looking around this dark little unassuming sports bar in Tucson, I couldn't believe that one of my favorite ska bands was playing there: my excitement was at its peak. The 21+ bar area had been sectioned off inside with a chain link fence. Kind of bizarre, but the stage area was all ages, so I didn't care. Besides, I had pre-gamed nicely. Three local bands played as openers as the acid slowly took hold of me. By the time the main act came on, I was frying hard. We had scored some good dose for our roadtrip. The Voodoos came out from behind the curtain, the lead singer donning a Lucho Libre mask, like the Mexican wrestlers wear. The distortion from the guitarist's Mesa Boogie amp melted the skin off my face; it was a wall of fierce, aggressive sound. The band played every song from the Band Geek Mafia, my favorite album of theirs; it was an epic fucking show. I was immediately caught up in a torrent of bodies, skanking and moshing and jumping around, out of my mind the whole night. I thought of Joe on and off the entire show, thanking him for turning me on to this amazing shit. After the show, I shook the drummer's hand -- goddamn, could that guy play. And then, once Kelly and I made it to the car, I promptly threw up everywhere. It was as if I had been saving it the whole show.

Later that night, Kelly and I got down in our tent, out in the Arizona desert, duct tape covering the tent opening (to keep the scorpions out). Having sex while you're tripping on LSD is a strange experience; I've done it only a handful of times. Your mind is all over the place, and it's hard to stay focused. My ears were still ringing hard from the punk rock show, my body was thrashed from the mosh pit. I was tired, but I felt electric; a live wire of sound and sensations. I was still frying as Kelly and I came simultaneously, out in the desert beneath the full moon. Beautiful stuff. It was an amazing night, all around. Moments like that stay with you forever.

Here, listen to some Specials and some Voodoos.

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Morphine: Cure For Pain

There's a band called Morphine? 

When I heard that there was a band called Morphine, I automatically assumed they were a punk band. I placed them in my head categorically with other bands like Rancid, the Descendants -- Morphine . . . I was at my friend and bassist Dustin Krupa's house in the mountains, and we were scrolling through his vast library of music on his computer. I was twenty. The band Morphine came up on the list as he continued down. 

"Morphine's a punk band, right?" I asked casually. In my head, I already knew what they sounded like: fast fast, loud, aggressive, punk.

"Nooo," D told me, shaking his head, his eyebrows furrowed. "Morphine is like bluesy jazz." And then he played me their song "Super Sex", off of their album Yes, and all my assumptions and presumptions melted away into the hot and dark rainy city streets deep jazz and poetic bluesy rock that was Morphine. Hearing Mark Sandman's deep baritone voice: "I got the whiskey baby, I got the whiskey. I got the cigarette." Morphine was nothing like I'd expected. It would be later on in the year that I really got into them, with their album Cure For Pain.

Cure For Pain, by Morphine. The album, with it's darkly haunting deep droning overdriven bass and sexy curvy baritone sax, it's tasteful and tight jazz drums; the powerful roar of Mark Sandman's two string slide electric bass, such an innovative instrument; the flow of the album from start to finish: it has dynamics, it tells a story, it takes me to another place.

The album conjures up my time spent at the apartment in the Mountain Sun apartment  (Mountain Slums, as we jokingly called it) in Durango, Colorado. I was living with my best friend Doc (Dustin Stoneburner). On the top story, the third level, all put together nicely in a two bedroom pad, everything was Doc's except for whatever was in my room. And it snowed that winter -- goddamn, how it snowed. Three feet high, we were snowed in, and I became deathly ill; hallucinatory and deliriously sick; the sickest I'd ever been in my whole life. This was in the apartment where I wrote many songs to my album Dig This: I wrote For "Fuck's Sake", "Pitch Black Blues in E", "King's Canyon", "Near Death" . . . it was the apartment where I started accumulating effects pedals for my newly acquired tube amp, where I began to tinker with my sound, with feedback, experimentation. In the apartment there was always music going. There was the Flaming Lips, the album Water by the Beautiful Girls, and for me, there was Morphine's Cure For Pain

Mark Sandman's low and deep voice, sophisticated, like beat poetry, snap your fingers in the dark jazz club. It changed me: the darkness of the songs, the overall arrangement, the beauty of it all. And many songs sounded alike, sure, but each song had the unmistakable unique style of Morphine; there's nothing like it.

Songs like "Buena", "Thursday", and the title track "Cure For Pain", were all dark and unique. There's not a bad song on the album. There are few albums that hold up in their entirety; most albums have at least one or two not-so-great songs on them; songs that don't seem to fit, songs that you intentionally skip over while listening in the car. Cure For Pain is not like that. I put it in, and it stays in; I don't need to touch the dial.

I listened to the album regularly, continuously, every time I was in my deathtrap breakdown car, as the snow dumped mercilessly on Durango, and the bourbon whisky poisoned my soul. Coming come at night, driving home completely shitfaced after a shift cooking at the fine dining restaurant north of town -- how did I make it home night after night? Drinking Maker's on an empty stomach, spilling the stolen food from the restaurant all over the walkway and the stairs, finally getting into the right apartment, cataclysmically wasted beyond repair. I lay on the futon and let the ceiling spin into oblivion, utterly lost, the kaleidoscope of burning fire rubbing alcohol fusing into my dying brain. Twenty years old.

I drank too much in the apartment, sure. Twenty years old, I got away with a lot. While I was living with Doc at the Mountain Sun, I'd come home with prime rib and Alaskan King crab legs and New York strips from the restaurant, we ate like kings. We constantly had two thirty racks of Pabst Blue Ribbon taking up all the room in our fridge. We had a bong that fucked your brain sky high; we were always getting stoned. Music constantly playing, guitars all over the apartment, cartoons (Aqua Teen Hunger Force, how I love that show even now), it was our own place. It was an amazing, creative time, short lived but impactful. And Cure For Pain was the soundtrack to this time period in my life.

Before I ever played lap slide, I listened to Cure For Pain; the open two note drone, the heavy rock two string slide bass was overwhelmingly powerful for me. Morphine was (is) a huge influence on my slide work. My main influences for lap slide guitar are Ben Harper, Xavier Rudd, Jack White, and Morphine; they have sculpted my style with lap slide. 

Listen to it. You might feel what I felt, to a certain extent.

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Aotearoa: Strange Weather

So, the first time I performed at the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood with my band, Casey Wickstrom's After Dinner Theatre, I was twenty two years old. We were sharing the show with five other bands, one of which was a band named Aotearoa. That's A-O-Tay-Uh-Row-A.

When my band walked into the Whisky before our set, there were two guys on stage, one playing guitar, the other on drums. They were tall, skinny kids with long dark hair, and they were really grooving. The guitarist was looping some funky ass tunes; he had like four or five layers going. The drummer was tight, keeping in time with the loop. On the next song, they switched instruments. These two guys were the band Aotearoa. I really dug their set; I've always appreciated good looping techniques. My band went on later in the night. It was a great show all around, and after it was done, I went to talk to the two guys that were Aotearoa, Jake and Ilan.

They were super cool, friendly, down to earth dudes. We talked about looping and different effects pedals, and we exchanged cds. I left to go back up to Northern California the next morning, and I put the cd they'd given me into my stereo. I figured I'd just play it until I got tired of it. 

I drove for three hours straight listening to their five track EP, and even when I finally took it out of my cd player, I still wasn't sick of it. I was hooked on the funky looping grooves of Aotearoa. Their EP, Aotearoa, was a great piece of music.

We kept in touch, Jake, Ilan and myself, through the power of social media. We shared a few more shows together over the years: twice in the city (San Francisco), and once in Echo Park (LA). Each time was a blast. 

These guys have their shit together: they constantly tour, living out of a sweet van; they book shows everywhere, and they consistently release new music and merch, most of which I immediately acquire. They have seven studio releases, all of which have their trademark two-man nomadic jungle funk grooves and vibes.

But in 2012, when I was living in Los Angeles, these guys released a full length album that would become my album of the year, and would eventually make its way to one of my favorite albums of all time. The album was called Strange Weather.

The impact that Strange Weather had on me was a gradual influence. I loved the consistent quality of the recordings, the dynamics of the tracks, and the overall theme. It told a story, which is what any great album should do. I gained a real affinity for the album in its entirety when I was touring; I played it while driving, listening to it from start to finish. This was before I had started looping -- before I even owned a looping pedal. I can honestly say that Aotearoa was my first big looping influence.

The amount of music that these guys are able to create, just the two of them, and how they were able to conceptualize and bottle up this experience of an album, is really amazing. Their sound is kaleidoscopic.

I've always thought that with really great albums, each song should be able to stand alone, with the album in its entirety creating a cohesive and conceptual experience. To me, Strange Weather is like that: each song is strong on it's own. Of course, some songs stand out for me more than others; certain songs just reach me more, but there's not a weak song in Strange Weather. Each song kills it. 

The song "Jaguar Tornado," off the album, influenced some of the music to my song "Teen Spirit," off of my 2013 album Desperate Times. Most people wouldn't make that correlation between the two songs: electric jungle funk and acoustic lap slide blues, but it's there.

I'd venture to say that the mainstream isn't fully aware of Aotearoa's music, but to me, that makes it that much more authentic. These guys play and tour for the sake of playing and touring. They're real in what they do, and it shows.

I listen to the album Strange Weather, and I'm driving to Vegas again, cruising through the desert as the sun sets, fingers tapping the wheel, the wind raging through the open windows, my head and body grooving to the music; it's impossible for me to stay still while I listen to this album. Over the years, Strange Weather has remained one of my favorite albums, and I don't see that changing.

I recently started writing on my website about music; songs and artists and people that have influenced me musically and otherwise, and I wanted to do a piece on Strange Weather. It's not everyday that you can just personally reach out to the guys behind one of your favorite albums and ask them if they'd answer a few questions for your website blog. But in this case, I can. I wrote Jake and Ilan and asked them if I could do this piece. They said totally, and I sent them the questions. The interview is featured on the next blog

Below is the full album on Youtube. It can be purchased here.

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Strange Weather: The Interview

BAND INFO

CW: What are your names?

JL: Jake Lerman 

IG: Ilan Gitter

 

CW: How long have you been Aotearoa?

JL: We played our first show as Aotearoa on September 21st, 2010. 

IG: It was in the band’s hometown of Lawrence, KS.

 

CW: The band is just the two of you. Both of you sing and play guitar and drums -- switching off instruments depending on the song. When I share your music, people can't believe that it's just two guys. How long have you been looping, and playing the drums?

IG: We have been doing our current setup since the beginning of Aotearoa. Both of us have been playing drums and guitar since our teen years. 

JL: I bought my first looper back in 2009. It was the Boss RC-20, which is what we’ve used for the majority of our recording and touring. It turned out to be the signpost that let us explore new ways a two piece band could function.

 

CW: What's the general amount of looping layers you have in a song? 

JL: It really varies song to song. Typically we build a bass line, a rhythm guitar layer, some sort of accent part, and at least one or two textural layers. When you apply that to three or four distinct sections, it’s not unusual to have around twenty individual layers occurring throughout a song. 

IG: In the end, we look at the looper as a tool and try to focus more on the song construction.

 

CW: What's your equipment for live shows? I recall a Marshall solid state amp and a Fender Stratocaster (I think). Do you loop with a Boss RC30? What effects pedals do you use?

JL: You’ve got a great memory! The Marshall is a Valvestate I’ve had for years, it’s rarely seen as a sexy amp to have, but it was a real workhorse and delivered great tone despite the abuse of touring. The black Fender is a fat-Strat with a humbucker in the bridge position that my dad snuck me out to buy when I was 12. It was my first guitar, I love it and I still use it today. 

As for pedals, we’ve grown a bit since our beginnings but in essence, we still employ the same pedal chain we always have. I’m in love with our setup so I hope you don’t mind the detail.

[Editor's note: Those who don't wish to indulge in effect pedal chain details / amp specifications can find the Strange Weather album interview below this section. I love this tech shit, but it's because I speak the language.]

JL (continued): From the guitar we go straight into a Ibanez TS-7 Overdrive which we push through to the ever popular Boss DD7 Digital Delay. From there the signal hits the LPB-1 by Electro Harmonix. It’s a clean boost pedal which we discovered about halfway along our long tour route that proved massively helpful for cutting a layer through the haze of a heavy loop without resorting to the crunch from the fully driven TS-7. 

The next in line is a mini Q-Tron and the Octave Multiplexer both also by Electro Harmonix. If I had to pin our sound to any gear aside from the looper, it would be these two guys. The multiplexer is a monophonic octave pedal which is where we get all our low-end from. It’s massively flexible and unfortunately often overlooked in favor of the P.O.G. by EHX. The Q-tron is a funk machine plain and simple. If I never found this little beauty we would probably be making afrobeat records.  

Before reaching the looper the chain rounds out with a Cry Baby to a TC Electronics PolyTuner. Both of these were crucial to what we were able to manage live. Polyphonic tuning is miracle.  However, for “Blue on Blue” our most recent release, we’ve moved into some new territory... The Boomerang. 

Unlike our trusty RC-20 (which is an absolute tank and we couldn’t recommend highly enough) The Boomerang III Phrase Sampler has multi channel looping as well as stereo ins and outs. What that’s meant for us is that we’ve finally been able to route specific elements of a loop to specific speakers. 

We used to achieve this bi-amping by using a simple Y-Splitter to send sound from the looper to the Marshall and an Acoustic Bass amp. Both of which would be mic’d. We’d often hit the bass side to an EQ pedal with the highs rolled off before a DI box would pipe it to the house subs. In the hands of a good sound tech we managed a bass sound that could rival any full band. 

However each amp was always receiving the entire loop, which often left any mixing / balancing to us on stage rather than front of house.  Now that we can send pure bass lines to the bass rig and only guitar tones to the guitar amps via an A/B switcher it’s really made recording and live tone jump up to a whole new level. 

 

STRANGE WEATHER INTERVIEW

CW: Where and when was Strange Weather recorded?

IG: Strange Weather was recorded in three different studios over a period of 6 months in 2012. The Bomb Shelter in Nashville with Andrija Tokic, The Bunker in Brooklyn with Aaron Nevezie and Pieholden Suite Sound in Chicago with Matt DeWine. Mastering was done by Erik Wafford at Cacophony Recorders in Austin. 

 

CW: There's a definite theme to the album: something like vagabonds and hurricanes; tornadoes, down pouring rain storms, and funk. It's seems to tell a story. In your own words, what would you say is the theme or story of the album? 

IG: It explores loss, redemption, and an interconnected doomsday. But more importantly it tries to answer the less asked question, “then what?” Jake did an amazing job with the lyrics in The Gyre (named after the North Pacific Trash Gyre) that really brings it home.  

JL: The thread here is probably loss, and perseverance in the face of the big intimate natural disasters we all face. Perhaps not the most upbeat thesis for a funk band. But we always felt that the genre we we’re trying to couch ourselves in had much more potential to communicate than many of our contemporaries ever explored. After living out on the road for a year and half, I think the ups and downs of nomadic touring were finally coming out in the music. You begin to feel your own absence in the lives of the people you care for, you begin to feel the height of the hill left to climb in more detail and when every city you visit, is your first time in the market, you constantly fighting even to be heard above the noise. I think we saw the parallel in survivors of acts of god who somehow maintain that elusive joy of living despite the walls falling down around them. Even with the cover artwork on the album, which is an amazing image by the photographer Jeff Moerchen, we were hoping to evoke that bright kind of stamina. To contrast and evolve the “diamond in the back” towncar image that’s so familiar to groove music, by planting it against a calm neighborhood scene where a single house is has collapsed under some unknowable weight - The whole thing feels to me like singing into the howling winds.

 

CW: The album is so consistent in it's production. Did you record analog or digital?

IG: It was a combination but everything touched tape at some point. We did most the recording and mixing with Matt DeWine at Pieholden and he did an amazing job blending the sounds we got at the other studios. Also, Erik at Cacophony did a great job in mastering to give it all a unified feel.

JL:  I think we got really lucky with the cohesion on this record considering we tracked it over such a long period of time and in such different environments. But each of the studios we visited is a legend in it’s own right. The Bomb Shelter was fresh off of the Alabama Shakes first release and follow-up LP, The Bunker had been responsible for at least two Grammy’s off “Brothers” by The Black Keys and Pieholden, where we spent the longest amount of time, is the famed collection of gear by Wilco’s late Jay Bennett. Matt DeWine was such a great host and guide through that final process of tracking and assembling the record. We were sleeping in the studio just to keep our heads in the project and he would come in with a slow cooker full of curry to prop us up. 

We’d also worked at Cacophony to record our third EP. It was home to the some amazing Black Angels albums and he’d been a real help to us during that process. We knew he did great work and would be the right guy to bring the record home. 

 

CW: My favorite track off Strange Weather, if I had to pick, would be Jaguar Tornado. Any personal favorites of yours, and why?

JL: I’m glad that one stuck out to you! It’s always been a fun one for us to play live. I’d probably say “Red Tide” for me. It just came really naturally when writing and it was the first time Ilan and I were able to work in an instrument trade in the middle of a song. It really breathed a new life into the live shows and it always just had a mysterious weight to it, that made it really great to perform. Also, the key intro to “Park Bench Bail” still knocks my head back every time I hear it. 

IG: I love how the tracks from the Bunker came out. Mine might be “Thunderbird”. I can’t listen to that track and not move. I also love the electric sitar sound on “I’m Alive!”.

 

CW: You guys are perpetually touring, so it seems like ideas would be constantly flowing. How did you bottle up the experience that is Strange Weather? What was the conception process of the album? 

JL: That’s right, we were touring constantly at the time. When we began writing it had been around 18 months of eating sleeping living on the highway. Gigging in every major city for a month at a time, and playing every venue along the way that would have us. In regards to new material the hardest part of that lifestyle was the absence of a place to write and rehearse. We would take advantage of any sound check or empty night to develop the musical sides of our new songs. We even snuck some power from an abandoned ranger station outside of Death Valley to demo out some ideas among a pen of desert tortoises. 

IG: Yeah, the tracks were definitely a product of that lifestyle and the people we met. Because it was so hard to find time and space to write the tunes, they were usually written only because of people we met. A few were written in a friend’s cabin in the woods in Alabama. Some were written in a friend’s barn in upstate New York. One was in someone’s living room in Opelika and some were written from seeds from a jam at a show. When we had most the songs we sat down together, found unconscious threads, and wrote a few more tunes in Chicago to tie it all together.

JL: Lyrically, I remember we’d often write with acoustic guitars in the van as a starting point. That might’ve lent itself to a more confessional approach. I think like Ilan said, we were just able to recognize threads in the material as the songs began to stack up. As for inspiration, I think we were as much on the receiving end as the listeners. Ideas just came fast around the corner and we’d be lucky if we had the mind to catch them. 

 

CW: Any strange or funny anecdotes about the album? Favorite tracks? Any cool outstanding experiences during the recording?

IG:  I’ll always think of that album as a product of the road. If we didn’t meet everyone we met the songs would not have come out the way they are. If we didn’t meet a friend of ours because of a cat that attacked Jake, then we might not have written Jaguar the same way. And if we didn’t meet him we wouldn’t have met some other friends that let us stay at their place in upstate NY and write some of the other tunes or see a man zip line over a lake and shoot a flaming arrow at a ten-foot-tall wooden vagina stuffed with fireworks.

JL:  That’s a good one! It happened the night before our first session for what would become Strange Weather. We were playing a festival in Seale, Alabama called The Doo Nanny. It was a mini Burning man of sorts in Northern Alabama. Like Ilan said, each year the event culminated in the lighting of a 40 foot vagina effigy by the infamous artist Butch Anthony. 

This event occurred immediately after our performance, and set off what became a late night. Needless to say we had to wake up very early the next morning to make it to Nashville for our session at The Bomb Shelter. As the warm Alabama air hit my face I managed to nod off at the wheel and spin our beloved van Daphnie Valerie Vega backwards on the highway as semi traffic was approaching. Miraculously ending up in a embankment, all parties emerged safe and sound. 

Aside from explaining to an Alabama Highway patrolman that the Yerba Maté tea leaves which were spilled on the carpet of the car was not in fact Marijuana but rather an Andean loose-leaf caffeine alternative, we arrived at our session without further incident. 

A memento of this drive is actually seated in the last 30 second of “Antibad”. With the help of Andrija, we popped the hood and ran a microphone to the engine block of the van as we revved to check for damage. I’m happy to say, we all emerged from this experience for the better. 

 

CW: Strange Weather is a 15 track album, your longest record thus far. Are you planning on recording another album of similar length? 

JL: I think we would love to make another record like Strange Weather. The longer format allows for a more in depth narrative to bloom and for us to explore more nuances of our sound. If we can find the interest and support to devote the studio time it would take to do justice to another LP, I bet we’d be very interested in that. 

IG: You’ll be one of the first to know if we do.

 

CW: Thanks for your time, guys. And congratulations on the release of Blue On Blue.

JL: Thanks Casey, we love hearing from you. 

IG: Keep the new music coming!

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Jolene: Behind the Story

The idea of Jolene actually came to me when I was in high school, in history class. My teacher Rob Coddington was telling us how when he was in college, he and his roommates had a ghost in their house; one that would mess with the tv and the lights. He might have even said that the ghost's name was Jolene. I forget; I'll have to ask him. I thought that it was a cool premise: to actually know the ghost that was in your house; to be on a first name basis with the ghost, and have it be fun at first, and then have it turn sinister towards the end. (Which never happened to Mr. Coddington; he had just told us the story in passing, planting the seeds in my head for a dark ghost story). I think I pictured the scene of the stereo exploding while I was in that class.

When I was living on my own after high school, living in a house on Richard Ave with three friends with names strikingly similar to the ones in the story, I adapted the ghost concept to our own lives. Any time something strange happened (which was really, really infrequent), I'd say that it was the ghost of the house, that it was Jolene. And my roommate Ben -- or Bill, in all my writings -- started saying that Jolene would come into his room, that she stayed in there, and she wanted to fuck him. He was kidding, of course.

Ben really did have a big bubble form above his bed, though, dripping water down from the ceiling. And he and I really did take mushrooms and ascend a harrowing and treacherous mountain top, both of us having vomited. The scene in the restaurant of me seeing the ghost of Terry Sweeney, and the crowd of ghosts at the bar, was true as well. I love Dolly Parton, that's true. The toilet paper conversation, and the infamous Blake's Lotaburger/ In N Out debate happened in real life. I like the dialogue throughout the story: some of it was conversations that I would have liked to have had with my friends, and some of it was actual conversations that didn't make it into my other writings for one reason or another. I got to talk about my fascination with Italian grindhouse horror, which is something I had wanted to integrate into my writing.

It took me eight days to write Jolene; I just wrote pieces of the story at random, scattered and non-linear, and originally I had assigned the chapter titles just to keep track of what was where, so I wouldn't get lost with all these dream sequences and strange occurrences. I didn't intend to have the chapters sectioned out like that, with mostly one word titles, but I liked it. It added to the tension of the story. 

The Dolly Parton song itself is very beautiful; There's a version that's been slowed down to 33 rpm (I added a link to it). It's haunting, beautiful, dark. If the story were a movie, the song would be the ending credits roll as the lead character drives through the New Mexico desert, the sun setting, until the car disappears from view.

(Spoiler alert!)

In the story, I knew that Billy had to die. I didn't know how until I wrote it out, and Joshua's death was a surprise to me. Never seeing Jacob again was painful in both the book and in real life, because he was such a good friend. I could easily find some symbolism or metaphors throughout the book, but really I just wrote and went along for the ride. This story was fun; it kept me up at night, working it all out.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

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Jolene: A Ghost Story

Jolene

A Ghost Story

By Casey Wickstrom

 

 

A Joke

It all started out as a joke. 

Jolene was just the name that we put to the strange occurrences around the house. Jolene, like the Dolly Parton song. A pretty name, I've always thought. She was the ghost in our house: the one that would flicker the lights on and off as we sat in the living room drinking beer and getting high. She was the ghost who slammed the doors in the middle of the night, when we were all sleeping. She was the one who turned the shower water to ice for an instant, and then turned it searing hot the next. 

She's the reason the television exploded; the reason the stereo burst into flames.  

And she's the reason that people started dying.

So, this is a ghost story, but it's more than that, to me at least. Because I lived in this house with the guys, and I got to know Jolene very well. 

The House    

The house was nice. It was a two story duplex, blue on the outside, white trimming. A nice, simple, unassuming American house with a tall thin tree out in the front yard. It was on a street called Richard Avenue. When we moved in, I was the oldest, but not by much. I was nineteen, and the others were a year or so behind me. There was Jacob, Billy, Joshua, and myself. I had known these guys since high school, and we had decided to get a place together now that school was over.

We had been searching all summer for a place to live. Finally, when we settled on the Richard Ave house, it was the end of August, the beginning of fall in the small mountain town of Durango, Colorado.

Jacob was kind of like the leader; he had found the place. He had red hair and was built like a lumberjack. Billy was tall and long, with toned arms and shaggy blonde hair that hung over his light blue eyes. He had a big nose. Joshua was tall and lean, with short dark hair and an acne ridden face. He wore round glasses, and had a soft, quiet personality. These were my roommates.

Four guys, and one girl.     

Shock Scares

In the movies, the monster is always in the reflection of the mirror. 

Camera tricks: the girl is all alone; she opens the medicine cabinet mirror, takes out a bottle of pills; then she closes it, and BOO! Who's behind her? The killer in the mirror. 

Shock scares: build the tension to a fever pitch, then let it fizzle away. False alarm. BAM! Drop your guard, and you jump. It gets harder and harder to scare you, the more you watch out for it.

You see, it wasn't like that in the house. We were seldom startled by the occurrences. At first, they happened so infrequently that it would be like a strong breeze slamming the door to one of our rooms every once in a while. Except there was no breeze, of course. 

Looking back, it started with the stereo. 

Drugs

We did a lot of drugs in the house. We drank like fish. Nights of warm friendship, drinking and getting stoned, doing coke and shrooms, acid when we could score it; mixing them all up, taking hits of salvia through the bong as we tripped into the early morning. Youth is sweet. Maybe it was the drugs that delayed us in taking any action with the strange occurrences in the house. Being constantly submerged in the ocean of alcohol and controlled substances, we didn't take much notice to the fact that the stereo would click on all on its own, on a semi regular basis; the lights would flicker in and out occasionally. We figured it was just a defective stereo -- some kind of jammed button, or something. I kicked it once, and it shut off again. As for the lights, it was an old house. 

Then the doors started slamming.

I couldn't tell you which door slammed first, but the first one that I recall was the bathroom door. Bill and I were doing the dishes (a rare occurrence in our house), and the door to the bathroom, just on the other side of the kitchen, slammed loudly. We looked over towards the bathroom. There wasn't a breeze in the house. Not a door was open to the outside. 

We looked at each other, laughed, and finished the dishes.

At first, it was kind of fun. It gave the house character, personality. A door would slam, the stereo would turn on out of nowhere, softly playing. It was a kind of cool quirky thing to show our friends. "Did you hear a noise?" They'd ask. "What was that?"

"Oh, it's just the ghost of the house," we'd tell them. "Shit like that happens all the time here." 

It was a game. Cupboard doors opened and shut at strange times in the night; the light in the bathroom would flicker in and out before shining brightly again, as if nothing had happened. It was innocuous. 

Then the frequency gradually increased. It became more of a regular rhythm in the house; like living in a house with a train nearby. It rolls by throughout the day and night, blowing its horn, maybe even shaking the windows as it passes, and eventually it gets to a point where you don't even notice it. 

And you know, you see all these horror movies where you're thinking to the characters, "What the fuck is wrong with you guys? Get the fuck out of there!" But it wasn't scary for us. 

Three months passed, and as winter rolled around, and the world outside turned to ice and darkness and snow, it was only us and the ghost in the house, keeping each other company. We barely payed any attention the occurrences anymore.

But eventually it got to a point where it would be hard not to notice it. And then the dreams started. 

Dream Documentation

I remember my dreams. Every single one. 

I write down every dream I've ever had. I have dreams from when I was four or five years old that I remember and write down. I know that dreams are only interesting to the dreamer, but I've had some real doozies. I don't know how to lucid dream --  I've come close a few times -- but I don't really care; I just enjoy going along for the ride. But all the dreams I've ever had, I can honestly say that I knew that they were just dreams. I've always been able to distinguish between the waking world and the dream world that I occupy every night. But then Jolene started coming into my dreams, and things got strange. Things became different. The dreams that I had with her started bleeding out into the day time: moments of deja vu, a suspension of reality. It became too real.

When the dreams first started happening, I had no idea that the girl in them was Jolene. I didn't know who she was until she told me. Before that, she was just a beautiful and illusive girl; alluring and mysterious. She started gracing my dreams as a complete stranger. She came into my dreams in the beginning of November.

Floating

She's floating, suspended in space, completely weightless. Her nightgown is as white as the moon. So is her skin; it contrasts with the piercing small circular black pools that are her eyes. Her mouth is small, but sexy, and she has perfectly sized teeth, I think, although I didn't really see those. The way her mouth moved was soft and sensual, slow and beautiful, like each word has it's own emphasis, it's own purpose. She's speaking, but no words come out. She reaches out to me; she touches my right forearm, her finger is an icicle, freezer burn on my arm, and then I wake up.

 

Hey! This is Casey Wickstrom. I hate to do this, but if you want to read the rest of this story, you gotta go to Amazon and download it for a few bucks. It'll be up on Halloween! Thanks.

 

Cigar Box Guitar: A New Video

I was looking for some more slide instruments this year to add to my collection. I had considered a Weisenborn lap slide, but after talking to my friend Henry Rust (an acoustic instrument aficionado), I decided against it. It was too quiet and delicate for my style of playing -- I tend to beat the fuck out of my instruments. 

Then a thought occurred: I wanted a three string slide cigar box guitar. I set about finding one, looking around on the internet and calling into some local guitar shops, but I ended up where I usually end up: Amazon. It was there that I found this three string cigar box slide guitar, complete with a pickup, for $34. Jesus, what a deal.

It came in the mail later that week, and I assembled it within minutes, and plugged it into my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amplifier. From there, I started in with some overdrive pedals: my OCD, which is a crunchy overdrive with a nice gain and cut to it, and my Crybaby wah pedal. I recently purchased an Ibanez Tubescreamer ts808 35th anniversary pedal (a nice pedal for collectors), which generally gives me a warm tube amp overdrive. But with the cigar box guitar, all it did was feedback like a motherfucker -- and when I put the Crybaby into it as well, it really lit up. I'm into feedback if it's done right: I dig the insanity and the offensiveness of the noise, all in moderation, of course.

So I started constructing a song on the cigar box guitar, and I reached out to Ali, the cinematographer from the NPR Orange Grove video and the Funk & Wagnall LA Sessions, and we set a date for a week later to shoot a video of me playing my new instrument. It gave me a little time to experiment with what I wanted, and what I didn't want. I knew that I wanted the song to be instrumental, and short -- people's attention spans (mine included) are getting shorter and shorter, so I wanted to pack a lot of musical action into a little time frame. I condensed the song into under three minutes (I think the finished project clocks in around 2:40).

Ali and Asal came over to the house, and we filmed in my recording room. The pedals were all over the floor just by chance; nothing was staged. It's a small room, so it was a pretty intimate shoot (which is a nice term for cramped and stuffy), with a lot of closeups and cool angles. I hadn't recorded the song take that would make the video yet, so I just looped and played along with general ideas while they filmed, figuring that I'd make the definitive track after filming. I know that I play with my mouth a lot; it's involuntary, I really can't help it. Looking at all the footage after the shoot, I had no idea that my mouth moved that much. 

After three hours, Ali and Asal left me with the footage, and I recorded the definitive studio track that would be used in the video. The same day I started editing the rough cut of the video. Within two days I had the rough cut done and I brought it to Ali, who really knows his shit with editing and all that. He went to film school; I'm just some dude with a laptop and a home recording studio. But I do alright; Ali said so. We took the cut and worked with it for a total of seven hours, and then, when we were both cool with it, I put it up online. 

For thirty bucks, this instrument is one hell of a good time. Here's the link to Amazon for any of my friends who want to pick one up; it's just cool to have around. The guitar comes with a glass slide, but I recommend just buying a Fender steel slide; it's much better.

Oh, right, and here's the video.

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Last Caress

Sean Armstrong was my neighbor in Durango, Colorado, when I was ten years old. He was a tall lanky kid, maybe four years older than me. He had long bleached hair with brown roots that parted down the middle of his head and ran down past his ears; his eyes were sunken in a little, and his shoulders were kind of slouched. Looking back, Sean was one of my first major influences growing up. 

I was a strange kid then, very insecure, out of place, dorky and desperate to fit in in any way possible. Sean was older, and I thought he was so fucking cool. He was the funniest guy I knew -- he was outrageously funny. There weren't a lot of kids in my neighborhood, so Sean and I would hang out pretty frequently, riding our bikes around, walking and talking about school, music, whatever. I wanted to be just like him.

This was in the late nineties, when the majority of what you heard on mainstream radio were actual bands. Alternative rock bands like Semisonic, Third Eye Blind, Eagle Eye Cherry, Fastball, Everclear; these bands got constant airplay. The Chili Peppers had just released Californication, which had saturated the radio waves with its title hit, and even more with "Scar Tissue", and "Otherside." Songs like "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)", and "Mambo #5" (fuck that song!) were playing day and night. Whenever I hear any of these songs (and thank God that I don't hear some of them anymore), I am immediately taken back to my old neighborhood in Durango, and I think of Sean. He had an ear for music, and he would explain to me how pretty much every song on the radio was the same. He'd go through the structure, talk about the bridge, and point out how in every song by Everclear, the lead singer would make the same stupid "Yeeaah . . ." This gave me a critical ear for music at a relatively young age, and I found myself dissecting each song that I heard on the radio, studying it, seeing if it was authentic, or just a predictable piece of shit.

Sean played the guitar. He had a nice old Gibson acoustic that he'd bring over to my house, and he'd play songs off of the radio, like "Save Tonight" by Eagle Eye Cherry, and "Californication." It was amazing watching his long skinny fingers move and bar across the guitar neck, in fluid technique, as we sat out on the brick porch of my house in Hermosa Valley. Looking back, Sean was the reason that I began playing guitar. My stepfather had an old Sigma, a Martin knock off, in the basement, so my mother got it out, paid to have it fixed up a little, and I started taking lessons. I learned a lot from Sean; he'd give me some pointers and occasionally we'd jam a little.

I remember sitting outside with him once, he was playing a popular song, and I started singing along with the guitar.

"Whoa," Sean said. "You have a really good voice."

I knew that; I'd been singing for years, classically trained and all that. But Sean complimenting me meant a lot. That was the moment when I thought to myself, "I should play guitar and sing."

. . .

Maybe the most influential thing Sean ever did for me was introduce me to the punk band the Misfits.

I remember it clearly: we were in his room, on the top story of his house, he had a cd in his stereo, next to his television, and he told me: "Listen to this. This is by a band called the Misfits." And he played "Last Caress." I listened to it, and I was struck. I remember thinking: "This is the most beautiful music I've ever heard in my entire life." Listening to Glenn Danzig sing, his dark and glorious voice was like an evil Elvis, a darker and ultra-violent Jim Morrison.  I would be able to recognize it immediately for the rest of my life. That was the first time I'd ever heard any kind of punk music. I was maybe eleven years old.

The song spoke of rape and violence. Rape, to me, was a terrifying concept. I had learned what it was only years before, explained to me by friends and my mother. I had been very sheltered as a kid, and anything having to do with sex and violence or even bathroom humor was strictly forbidden. I would become guilt ridden even thinking of such things. But when I heard Danzig bellowing in his illustrious voice about killing babies and raping mothers, and how it didn't matter much to him as long as they were dead and spread, I was completely amazed. It didn't scare me, because the way it was presented, to me, was so beautiful. I couldn't believe what I was hearing; I was in awe -- the power of this driving brutal punk music had suddenly transcended all the taboos in my life. I didn't know that you could just sing about that shit and make it sound so good. I'll never forget that.

The Misfits are still my favorite punk band, slightly ahead of the Dead Kennedys, and even before Bad Brains (blasphemy, I know). The horror-punk sub-genre that they created has never lost its appeal to me. They're like the Ramones, only more badass. While the Ramones wanted to sniff glue and sing punk love songs, the Misfits wanted your skull; they sang about Astro Zombies and the unholy living dead, murder and the macabre, dark and evil subject matter. They were violent, ferocious, and completely unapologetic. Danzig's voice is legendary; and the simplicity of the songs, composed with the structure of 1950's rock and rockabilly, each song is melodic and catchy, short and blasting. I love it.

. . . 

Sean moved away when I was thirteen. But I never forgot him.

Close to a decade after hearing my first Misfits song, I saw Sean randomly at Bonnaroo, a monolithic music festival out in the middle of Tennessee. This was the year that Tool played the festival; the Police were there, the White Stripes, the Flaming Lips, a bunch of bands. Sean recognized me, which was amazing because I hadn't seen him in probably eight years, and I had a mohawk and was wearing only board shorts and sunglasses. I was high on acid, too. It was a cool reconnection, brief but serendipitous.

I remember Sean for a lot of reasons; he was a huge influence on me. I'll always remember the first time that I heard "Last Caress."

p.s: The music video for "Last Caress" is as cool as the song itself; which is a tall order.

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Street Hassle

The first time I heard the song Street Hassle, by Lou Reed, I was sitting at the bar inside the Pocket in Santa Cruz, after hours, with vicki next to me. I was talking to Jerry, the bar owner and my very good friend. We both love Lou Reed, so we were talking about that, and then Jerry goes to the jukebox and puts on a song that swings and rocks in a jazzy lounge sort of way, and for some reason, although I've never heard the song before, I know that it's Lou Reed singing "I Wanna Be Black." Don't ask me how I know that, I just do. I ask Jerry, "Is this 'I wanna be black?'" And he nods, and proceeds to sing along with the track, which is offensive and racy and sharp and clever; punk rock in a swinging jazz suit. And then, after the song ends, Street Hassle, the title track of the album comes on, and my life changes. 

There's the looping circular motion of the cellos, the emotional modern classical hypnotizing feel of the staccato cello notes, and the warm tone of the guitar, whirling in a soft storm of art. In the bar, with my arm around vicki's waist; vicki, who I am really into at the time (and for only a short time), I am enraptured by this new song. The symphony continues for a while, and I'm taking it all in; it's pure to me, amazing. Lou's voice begins to sing/talk in the hybrid style that I've come to easily recognize, but this song is new. And it's long. It's a story, and I am immersed in the beauty of this track. Reed's voice remains cool throughout most of the song, but by the third part, it's vulnerable and beautiful, sad and poignant, deeply moving. It's a totally different side of Lou Reed.

The song is divided into three parts: "Waltzing Matilda," "Street Hassle," and "Slip Away".

First, it's a one night stand love story, lust and sex and New York nights, set to the hypnotic chorus of the cellos. And then the song fades away into the dark and haunting voices of the backing singers, beautiful black girls that bring the song to a standstill in a moving yet short acapella break. And then the cellos start in again, and I'm brought back into the flow of the song.

The story turns dark: an overdosed girl in some house in the city; she took too much, and she's a goner. Lou's monologue is hip street poetry; he's talking to the guy who brought the girl over to the house:

"Hey that cunt's not breathing, I think she's had too much, or something or other, hey man, do you know what I mean? I don't mean to scare ya, but you're the one that came here, and you're the one that's gotta take her when you leave. I'm not being smart or trying to act cold on my part, and I'm not gonna wear my heart on my sleeve. But you know people get all emotional and sometimes, man, they just don't act rational; they think they're just on tv.

"I'm glad that we met, man -- it really was nice talking, and I really wish that there was a little more time to speak. But you know it could be a hassle trying to explain yourself to a police officer about how it was your old lady got herself stiffed. And it's not like we could help her, there was nothing no one could do, and if there was man, you know I woulda been the first. But when someone turns that blue, it's a universal truth, and you just know that bitch'll never fuck again.

"By the way, that's really some bad shit that you came to our place with, but you ought to be more careful around the little girls. It's either the best or it's the worst, and since I don't have to choose I guess I won't, and I know this ain't no way to treat a guest . . . but why don't you grab your old lady by the feet and just lay her out in some darkened street and by morning she's just another hit and run.

"You know some people got no choice and they can never find a voice to talk with that they can even call their own. So the first thing that they see that allows them the right to be why they follow it, you know it's called, bad luck." 

In the monologue part about the chick od'ing, Jerry is speaking along with the song, eyes closed. I watch him as I listen, trying to take it all in, drunk and stoned, knowing that I will have to get this album soon -- it's one of the few Lou Reed albums that I don't have at the time. Earlier in the spring, when I first came back up from LA, I went on a Lou Reed binge. He had just died the year before. I'd been an obsessive Velvet Underground fan since age twenty, but I was slow getting into Reed's solo stuff. I had Transformer, sure, the David Bowie produced album with "Walk on the Wild Side" and all that, but that's surface level Lou Reed. Mainstream, if you will. And with Lou Reed, there's so much more than Transformer.

Now that I was back in Northern California, I got The Blue Mask, Coney Island Baby (my favorite right off the bat; it was bright and tightly mixed and a good time of an album), and Berlin. Also, Live in Italy, Animal Serenade, Ecstasy, and Metal Machine Music. All of these albums came from the public libraries as I scavenged around like a kid in a candy store, bulking up my iTunes music library. But I had never been able to find Street Hassle, and I just wasn't sure about it from the iTunes samples that I had gotten online; it didn't do the album justice. I knew that I would get around to getting it, but I wasn't sure what would move me to get the album.

And now here I was, in the Pocket in Santa Cruz, after hours, drinking Coors with the owner, sitting next to my semi-girlfriend at the time, completely entranced, hypnotized and euphoric at the discovery of this new song, this new album. The song Street Hassle reminds me of Santa Cruz, when I would wake up next to vicki, a  beautiful poetic-looking brunette, hungover and a little sick, then sit out in the sun on her house porch and smoke a cigarette and read in the sun, my shirt off and my shades on. We went to the beach one day after breakfast, this must have been in July or even late August; the waves crashed onto the little children and I jumped in the water, briefly, in my underwear, then came out to rest in the sand and sun next to vicki. I remember feeling salty with the ocean and the sex that we had just had earlier. I wrote her some letters during this time, and for some reason, I never capitalized her name, which is why I don't here, either.

The first morning after I stayed over with her she took me to her work; a bed and breakfast near downtown Santa Cruz, where I stayed in the back room and slept some more. I woke up slowly, in quiet secrecy, because vicki wasn't necessarily allowed to bring in one night stands to her work to sleep in after a long night of drinking and cocaine and sex. vicki was a one night stand that lasted about a month. It was good, passionate and fun. Nothing lasts, especially with me. At the time, I was reading White Noise, by Don DeLillo; I sat in the lobby and read for hours until vicki was off of work. Before that I had raced through the Drive-In Trilogy, by Joe R. Lansdale: a raunchy gore-filled romp of sci-fi horror in east Texas. Great books, given to me by Jerry at the Pocket. All these memories connect with the song, emotions and experiences aligned in a single tune.

Street Hassle has the ability to take me to another place each and every time that I hear it. The album itself is so-so for me; half the songs I dislike, although the songs "Wait", "I Wanna Be Black",  "We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together" -- those are good. But the title track is the one, man. It takes me there. It is one of my favorite songs, ever. 

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