I’ve been head over heels for Noah Gundersen for a few years now, ever since being completely spun around and knocked to the ground by him live at a few summer festivals, and then really getting into all his recordings, old and new. His songs are a piercing blend of harmony (with his sister, no less) and wide-openness to a world that’s not always easy to be wide open in.
Noah says of this song (and I 100% agree):
“Lay Low is one of those songs that has a habit of finding its way into my subconscious and staying there. While driving around on tour, loading up the van after shows, during the rare quiet moments in a green room, the lyrics and the melody would rise up and start repeating over and over in my head.
There is a loneliness throughout it. An admittance of frailty. An acceptance of our small and mortal lives, where we really don’t know what it all means. But through it all, a small yet resounding spark of hope and love. I’m honored to call Michael and Cary Ann friends. I hope this cover does their beautiful composition justice.”
I am pretty excited to be welcoming Noah Gundersen to the Ivywild School next weekend, on Saturday October 18, as part of his fall tour in support of the magnificent Ledges. If you’re in Colorado, please come! If not, here are your other tour date options. This kid is the real deal.
Hey, you. We haven’t talked in a while because my life is going really well, overflowing full of promotions at work and adventures in life and love. And grad school, which is none of the above, but interesting and gratifying and a lot of work. It’s nice to be here tonight.
A friend shared an assignment with me for a music class he is working on, a get-to-know-you essay asking students to pick three songs (any genre) that most accurately speak to who you are. Make your case as to why these three songs, he said. Game on, I said. This is way more fun than reading development theory. I thought you might like to read my musings that I just sent back to him, and I’d love to hear yours.
Sept 2, 2014
I have an over-identification problem with songs. It’s ravaged me my whole life, from the time I first listened to “American Pie” and felt deeply, weirdly sad — off in some strange monumental place that I didn’t have any personal experience with, but I nonetheless understood. “A long, long time ago, I can still remember how the music used to make me smile.” Has there ever been a more perfect opening line for a song, or a sadder one? I didn’t know, but I wanted to figure it out. I then proceeded to listen to that song on a cassette tape that I taped off the radio, roughly 1352 times that year between elementary school and middle school. The day the music died? What a terrible thing for my eleven year-old brain to try and empathize with. I felt it, man, especially in those elegiac closing piano notes on the last verse.
So the assigned task of picking three songs that most accurately describe me is not difficult from lack of choices. If we could pause on different points in my life, I could have felt summed up by “Vogue,” (Madonna, fifth grade, bangle bracelets) “Man In A Box,” (Alice in Chains, trying to impress a dude), any number of terrrrrible Christian rap songs that still sometimes get inexplicably stuck in my head (like this morning: the entire bridge, mind you), and real sad heartbreakers by Ryan Adams or The National, for crying in your coffee when love is gone and you’re just a big shimmering ghost of snot and sadness. I am an excruciatingly active walking songbook, most days. Wouldn’t trade it.
But: game, set, match Professor. I’ll give you three songs.
One of the transformative functions of music in my life so far has been to uproot me from the ground I felt was home, to give me something to rebel with, something to flip off the establishment with, and crowdsurf to in my Doc Martens at a Cracker concert when I was fourteen. Not that I suffered any great indignities that I needed escape from (except maybe the aforementioned Christian rap), but that separating seems to be one of the most natural (and essential) growing pains that music can shove us into and then ease us through. For American youth this is a leitmotif we all recognize, from lindy-hopping in scandalously short skirts, to watching Elvis gyrate and screaming over the Beatles, to turning on / tuning in / dropping out.
As for me, I got to be fourteen in 1993 and rage against the machine with Pearl Jam, much to the slight bemusement of my parents. The second Pearl Jam album Vs. was the first CD I ever bought (after having Ten on cassette), and something in me electrified and woke up roaring, even if I didn’t exactly know yet where that roar came from. I immediately became not just a huge fan, but the best fan. Although long lapsed now, I can still recite my official Ten Club fan club number: 50792. I once spent all $200 in my savings account to buy a single scalped ticket to see them play a secret show in Santa Cruz billed as The Honking Seals. In those nascent days of dial-up internet, I joined an internet list-serv and posted to message boards, participated in tape trees to distribute and share live recordings of shows because in those songs I found a sort-of closed eyed bliss. I knew alternate endings and unreleased versions and one time my dad stymied my youthful rebellion to take me all the way to San Diego to see them live in concert (after Eddie Vedder got sick at Golden Gate Park and cancelled the next leg of the tour much to my utter ruination).
As a hard-scavenged b-side in the days when b-sides were much more difficult to find, this song always felt like mine from the first time I heard it; enigmatic and bluesy and undeniably beautiful. It is, at its core, a fumbling, sweet mess of a song that glitters with a sort of hope that all the teenage angst could never quite beat out of me. This song is how I felt inside at fifteen, and maybe it is how a lot of me still feels. When I listen to it even now, the roundness of the notes always hang there golden in front of me, like nothing could ever get better. Who knows …maybe it never can.
Mary – Patty Griffin
Even though I kept the battered brown Doc Martens, I pretty quickly jumped myself from teenage rebellion and on into marriage, and then into parenting a wonderful sweet little boy who joined me in 2003.
I was fascinated the first time I heard this song because of all the hidden layers of a human being that it flays apart. In this instance, it happens to have religious allegorical tones, and we happen to be talking about a mother – one of the most archetypal of all women and all mothers. But really, to me, it is a song about how none of us are ever just one thing, or even a handful of easily-identifiable things. Being a young mother and then a single mother and then an adventurous single mother roaring out on her own joyful and terrified, most of the images I’m handed aren’t me. This song is a litany of all the things that Mary is covered in, so much so that we can’t quite even see her face anymore – just a ideally-shaped collection of roses and ashes and babies and wilderness and stains. And yet, there is a quiet and very honest dignity to the work of caring that she does, with far-reaching consequences in the world around her. It’s a beautiful and complicated transformation, isn’t it? A lot of this song feels like my twenties. Somewhere in the really deep loveliness of this song, there is something of me.
Ragazzo Fortunato – Jovanotti
In addition to the Pearl Jam that spurred me to start a music blog (named after one of their lyrics), and the glossy wide river that motherhood has gratefully carved through the middle of my decades here on earth, it was the months I have spent studying and living in Italy that forever altered both what I do for a living and the way I see beauty in the world. I knew the first time I started studying the mellifluous language that rolled over tongues like love itself (or maybe lust), and the first time I saw the powerful, bright brushstrokes of Michelangelo – I was a goner. I wanted to sink back into this culture, laying down under the water and feeling the rush and the release. I’ve spent some damn good times in that water – learning how to express what I wanted to say in a new language, forging friendships, seeing things through very different eyes, and hell – even getting to interview Italian mega-star Jovanotti himself at sunset on a Southern California beach (twenty-year-old Heather is still dying over that one).
Yet, for all the beauty of the language, let’s be unequivocally clear: this is an extremely lame, thoroughly dorky song. I think this is important in summing me up. Because I also love it. It is unfettered and jubilant –I mean– in the video Jovanotti gestures at the camera like a badass (in his defense, namechecking Siddhartha and referencing Dante), backed up by a bunch of Italians happily frolicking like they’re in a Mentos commercial, demonstrating the rule that all Italians know at least three Jovanotti songs by heart.
D’aww – but the wide-open chorus: I am a lucky guy (ragazzo fortunato) because I’ve been gifted a dream / lucky because there’s nothing that I need / and when the evening comes, and I return home to you / and no matter what happens, I’m fortunate to meet you again.” It’s a simple happiness splashed all through this song, and I ain’t too good for that. I truthfully sing this song in my head all the time, like a constant mantra. Sono ragazzo fortunato. I am. And I have everything I need.
In a recent segment on NPR’s All Things Considered, PHOX frontwoman Monica Martin confided to Melissa Block a similar thing to what she told me last year — that she has somehow, unbelievably, been a timid singer for years. To watch the glory that slowly unfolds now out of her tight green bud of self into this dazzling swirl of confetti is truly jaw-dropping.
Monica’s voice could easily rank up there with the greats, the distinctive women who command a room, who make your heart twinge and ache, who spin out old memories like cotton candy with the ease of her fingertips. This gal used to sing behind a megaphone, afraid to look at the audience?
PHOX is a band of friends, above all, who have grown up all wound together in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I am sure that familial connection helps instill some measure of safety around a hesitant singer on stages across the country and the world. The genuine affinity between them all was obvious when we met. Their songs have captivated me from the first time I listened, all multi-instrumental experimentation and a hazy sort of deepening joy — with melodies that absolutely stick in your head for days without leaving. Their full-length record just came out a couple of weeks ago and people are (rightfully) losing their shit over it. You should go get it right away – definitely a top album of the year so far.
Here’s what they sounded like almost exactly a year ago on (I believe) their first tour ever. It was a short, sweet, stunning set that afternoon that left us all shimmering – tremendous then, and tremendous now.
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
July 17, 2013
This is one of the most winsomely charming songs that I’ve heard in the last few years, and I have listened to it (and watched THE VIDEO) dozens of times. There is a playful, glorious thread running through this song that feels like it unfolds in a number of scenes or movements. As a fan of creative percussion, I superlike watching how they construct and layer the handclaps here also:
This song sounds to me like a springtime morning waking up. It could be a forest or a meadow, or it could be a city where the shopkeepers roll up the metal grates and sweep the sidewalk that passes in front. To me it sounds like a song about a smile that you can’t shake.
Side note: I googled what an Espeon was, and it turns out it is a Pokemon — and as the mother of a ten year old boy, I really should have known that you guys. And then I also remembered that when Phox stayed at my house they specifically commented in praise of Samuel’s Pokemon dragon toy-thing that says “TYBLOSION” or something when you touch its stomach. Now THERE’S A LEITMOTIF YOU DIDN’T SEE COMING.
From the first lyrics sung alone out into the room: “These days …these days are hard…” — I was frozen in place in that church, listening to four of the members of PHOX craft this with just their voices the whole way through. And then it builds and just gets stronger as it gathers steam; it is stunning, and it gave me full-body chills anew when I listened to the finished recordings. Boom Forest (John Paul Roney) is also from Baraboo, Wisconsin, and you can hear his fervent stuff (including this song) here — I like it a lot. PHOX sings on this song on his record as well.
This is our second session we’ve posted that was recorded using the fabulous Blue Microphones. I ain’t mic-smart, but I can tell a significant wow factor in the sound that has been attained through their support of these sessions. Thanks guys.
[Audio wizardry, recording, and mixing time donated by the Bourgal brothers at Blank Tape Records, as always, and video and photography from the supreme Kevin Ihle. Thanks for being part of creating these special sessions.]
Also, I posted a songwriter session back in 2008 that Jeffrey Foucault did with Peter Mulvey and Chris Smither – that’s still uploaded here if you want to take a listen (wonderful cover of Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” to boot).
This is the best thing I’ve seen all month: I’ve been meaning to write about how explosively terrific and joyful the new Agesandages album is (out now on Partisan Records), but this new video does it all for me with zero editorial needed.
Whoa. So this is the first chapel session we recorded using the new Blue Mics that were donated to the cause by a wonderful reader named Tyler Barth in California, just simply because he is a fan of what we are doing here. I’m no sonic whiz (for example, I’ll happily listen to crappy-quality songs ripped off YouTube) — but I can flat-out say that this is the best sounding chapel session we’ve ever done, and we’ve done some pretty damn terrific sounding ones before this. So thank you, Tyler. We’ve got a handful more sessions already in the can with these mics, and now I’m quadruply-thrilled to hear what’s next.
David Wax Museum is a tremendously talented band, and I’ve been a fan for years. Their voices ring true and urgent and clear together, and they’re a joy to watch because they take so much delight in what they’re doing. Then again, I’d take great joy in my work if I got to use an accordion, a cajon, shell anklet percussion, a donkey jawbone, a fiddle, and basically every other instrument that nine-year-old you would want to get your hands on and run around the backyard playing.
There’s always been a trademark español undercurrent to much of their music, fostered by David’s fellowship in Mexico after he graduated from Harvard. He spent a year studying Mexican son music, first forming a Mexican roots band before the David Wax Museum came into being.
On this session they were augmented by sometime-band-member and full-time-David’s-cousin Jordan Wax on the accordion, and I could see the specialness of their music created together. Also, this is the first chapel session I’ve hosted with a glowingly pregnant woman performing, and I think we can all agree that that little kiddo (she’s born now, and on tour with the band) must have had one of the *most joyful* in utero experiences of any baby in 2013.
It was happy to watch, imagining backflips.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #30
DAVID WAX MUSEUM
July 7, 2013 – Shove Chapel
Colorado Springs, CO
This is such a wonderful, specific love song, and it expands like a kaleidoscope with each verse and voice and instrument added. Love songs should be specific. This one paints a distinct picture of a lover with a big heart, low voice, trembling lips, and dark eyes. I like how he invites her in this song to “break me” and also “seep into me.” Sometimes we need both, don’t we?
This traditional-sounding song is laden with a community weight of a gospel singalong, and I had to look up it up to see if it was their original creation, or a hundred-year old hymn. Suz’s clear voice rings out to lead — and if we’re talking about the gospel, she is like a minister here, leading the other four dudes in the band with her violin and her voice. This song is about resting with things that we don’t understand, best I can tell, and it’s nice to have the community voices behind us, anchoring that sometimes-challenging sentiment.
This is still one of my favorite David Wax Museum songs (I named that Spring 2011 mix for a lyric from this song), and this was a request I made that afternoon. They jumped into it wholeheartedly, as you can hear, and this chapel rendition is even more mellifluously cacophonous than the album version. I adore it. You can hear the hands hitting the cajon, you can hear the clackety shells ’round ankles, you can watch the joy in the dueling accordions. “Some of us come with new hearts, most of us come with used hearts / baby, why do you look so sad?”
This is their cover song, a traditional Mexican folk song from Veracruz. I was pretty proud of my high school Spanish that allowed me to glean, without googling, this this was a song about some sort of poor little bird (spoiler: IT’S A PARROT) being urged to fly away. There’s some residual high school extra credit waiting to be earned from Sra. Navarro for that one, I think.
There was so much joy on their faces and effervescent laughter in the church when they performed this, the yelling call-and-response. Also, the cajon is hands down my favorite thing about this entire session – the way Philip Mayer drums it for all he’s got. Later that night at my house show, I think this is the song that David stood outside for, and yelled his lines from beyond the windows in the darkness. It was tremendous.
Before there was a diet that that one dude from Crossfit that you dated for a little while a couple of summers ago was following and kept trying to get you to do too, Portland musician David Strackany began playing music under the name Paleo. It ties in with the things that are primal and old, and it’s a fitting name for these quirky, rustic songs with teeth, sung boldly.
We are very lucky to be welcoming Paleo for a special Sunday night house concert on June 1. His music is out on the excellent Partisan Records (home of other house show alums and friends like Field Report, PHOX, Dolorean, and Deer Tick). His latest album is called Fruit of the Spirit: recorded in Davenport, Iowa, it features a collaborative effort of friends and artists from across the Midwest landscape of Chicago, Minneapolis, Iowa City and more. Recorded with the analogue aesthetic and equipment with Daytrotter sound engineer Patrick Stolley, Fruit of the Spirit represents a modern day DYI symphony with David Strackany as the conductor and songwriter.
Prior to creating Fruit of the Spirit, Paleo spent a year writing a song a day for his ‘Song Diary’ project. VP Dick Cheney even congratulated him on his massive accomplishment in a personal letter stating, “writing 365 songs in 365 days is a feat that took determination and dedication. Completing this project must bring you great satisfaction.” I bet it did.
I am also thrilled that Tyler Lee Holter (from Denver) will be opening the night. Tyler makes gorgeous modern day cowboy music, and I mean that as the highest compliment. He will make you want to hop a train or ride off on his horse with him, that is a promise.
Plus One – Tyler Lee Holter
(another name-your-price song from Tyler is here)
See y’all Sunday, June 1 at 7pm. Generous donations for the musicians are highly encouraged, because you are a person who supports live music and the continued growth of art that means something. YES. Do it.
This is one of the more stunning things I have seen this year.
Damien Jurado might be the most talented, evocative, heart-wrecking musicians making songs today, and then you go and put him with a backing choir of some pretty angelic-sounding Seattle ladies and: forget about it.
I keep finding confetti in the strangest of places.
When I undressed last night after the explosion of my first Arcade Fire show, it was a sparkly colorful shower of loosened confetti, festive on my bedroom floor. I suppose this is wont to happen when you are standing right next to a confetti cannon. I had never stood that close to a confetti cannon before, and that overflow of joy was the perfect ending to a perfect show.
When I think of the music of Arcade Fire as an opus, they occupy this vivid and fully-fleshed out scenario in my mind: I see a grey behemoth of a city, unforgiving and unflinching, and their music a silvery-red calescent geyser cracking the cement boulevards and impassive architecture wide open. It’s music that is subversive in its imagination, relentless in its insistence on a measured and salvific whimsy.
The one word that rang out almost audibly for me as I watched them perform (with all the instruments and a blissful overdose of percussion) was that theirs is this music of hope, as overused of a word as that is. A friend of mine is working on creating an invented language based on connotative, metaphorical meanings, and I wish he could take a crack at a word better than “hope,” but that’s all I could think of, in its purest form.
I kept wondering — how have they been doing this live show thing for over a decade and still vibrate that sentiment? It was a dazzlingly cinematic show that for all the deliberate intention never seemed contrived. My finely-honed joy radar was picking up a genuine excitement in their songs, despite Win having been “deathly ill” for the three days prior to the show. I was worried that I’d missed that early window where amazing bands are still amazing live, and I was floored how much that wasn’t the case.
In related news, I am also now thoroughly taken with Régine, as I imagine every sentient human being who has ever seen her perform is. She owns the air all around her, so competently and confidently playing every instrument in a ten yard radius. I love her, I loved last night, I loved singing along to those songs that have meant so much to me with thousands of other people around me. I had a big goofy grin on my face the whole snowy drive home.
Sometimes two voices wend together so powerfully and perfectly that you stop frozen in your tracks the first time you really listen to them. I felt that way about Vandaveer when I heard their album Dig Down Deep in the hot summer of 2011 (and it went on to be one of my favorite records of that year). With roots in both Kentucky & DC, Vandaveer is the project of Mark Charles Heidinger with Rose Guerin perfectly complementing his voice with hers. J. Tom Hnatow (of These United States) plays dobro/slide guitar.
Mark has the most unusual voice, in that it reminds me of a wonderful female blues/jazz singer — maybe the rueful and bittersweet beauty of Nina Simone. It nestles underneath your skin. As complement, and sometimes taking the lead, Rose Guerin’s deeply-saturated, strong alto is generous and powerful. Together they are really stunning. If you haven’t listened to their music, I urge you to.
Mark was once called “The Greatest Songwriter of His Generation.” In the article, Paul Gleason remarks that: “‘Dig Down Deep’ was the moment of epiphany, the moment of spiritual awakening, when Mark reminded me of what art can do when it reaches its highest potential – that is, how it can close the gap that divides us into separate beings.” I had a very similar connection with the song standing under the staggering, light-drenched architecture of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia a few winters ago.
I’d known Mark Heidinger’s work over the years through his connections with These United States (with Jesse Elliott, currently from Ark Life), as well as his role of lead singer in The Apparitions (I still run to their phenomenally-catchy song “Electricity + Drums” on the regular). I’ve loved every musical iteration he has explored, and this chapel session is another stop on that variegated journey. It was a pleasure to welcome these guys.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #29: VANDAVEER
June 6, 2013
Shove Chapel, Colorado College
Dig Down Deep
YOU GUYS, I have sang along to the harmonies on this song probably 100 times, usually in my car, where the reception is always breathless and astounded wonder. I finally got to try those same “ohhh ohhh ohhhh”s IN REAL LIFE and WITH THE ACTUAL BAND. Pret-ty pleased. This is a such a great, great, great song. Dazzling and moving like a modern gospel hymn.
Down In The Willow Garden
The latest Vandaveer record Oh, Willie, Please is a bold exploration of murder ballads. There are a lot of terrible things that people do to each other – drowning, stabbing the woman you love with a dagger, and other lighthearted mirth. As Stephen Deusner writes in his terrific Paste Magazine review of their new record, “New folk revival bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and The Avett Brothers reimagine old-time music as uniformly fervent and life-affirming and white, but there’s some fucked-up shit in the American songbook.”
You might wonder, as I did — why the hell these murder ballad songs? Mark did many interviews about this genre and their decision to make a whole record of these gory melodies (– they donated 10% of the crowd-sourced funds raised for this record to a domestic violence shelter in Kentucky, actually). Mark said:
“I do think we humanfolk have long been fascinated by the darker, gruesome aspects of the human condition. It’s the same reason shows like CSI or those real-life crime documentaries are popular today. People are strangely attracted to acts of evil. It’s a form a voyeurism on some level. For my part, I wanted to participate in the process of continuing the life of these songs. They all come from the public domain. They belong to all of us, and so I think it’s important to revisit, to reinterpret, to engage with them as living artifacts of our collective experience.”
When Vandaveer played at my house last summer, they were absolutely riveting. I swear that none of us breathed in that room when they lit into it.
This time we are thrilled to have them playing the wonderful restored gym at Ivywild School a week from tonight! I am so pleased to get to see them again next week (Friday, April 18) and to introduce a whole new bunch of people to their voices.
Name: Heather Browne Location: Colorado, originally by way of California Giving context to the torrent since 2005.
"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel." —Hunter S. Thompson
Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.
I AM FUEL, YOU ARE FRIENDS is brought to you by Fuel/Friends LLC. Ownership of all audio and visual material displayed here remains with their creators and/or owners and is cited accordingly.. Illustrations by Luke Flowers. Design & Layout by Dayjob.