October 7, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #26: Will Johnson (of Centro-matic)


“Life is wide,” Will Johnson told me, long past midnight at my kitchen table on a work night, a row of empty bottles between us. His eyes flash brightly as he listens to my stories, and I to his. My heart was ground-up meat the night he was in town, and even though my stories had nothing to do with anyone he knew, he elbowed his way into some truths with me as protectively as if he’d known me for years. And indeed, I felt as if he had.

This chapel session similarly feels summoned from some sort of ether that I completely understand, although the songs and the stories are all his. There’s a shining acuity, and this puncture-wound freshness in lyrics like, “and you were laughing that transparent laugh of one with a real broke-ass heart.” Will writes amazing, desolate songs with so much space and thought in them. They are the kinds of torn and weary homilies that I love from folks like Townes Van Zandt. His voice echoes off all the walls in the church and sinks straight into the cracks in me.

If you haven’t met Will yet, he fronts the bands Centro-matic and South San Gabriel, and also has been part of some rad collaboration projects that I love: Monsters of Folk (with Conor Oberst, Jim James, and M. Ward), the smoky duet record he did with Jason Molina, and that Woody Guthrie New Multitudes record with Jay Farrar, Jim James, and Anders Parker last year. He is a gem, among the best. And he is on the road down the West Coast next week with Dave Bazan, in their new musical project together, Overseas.

“Life is wide.”

I wrote that on the inside of a discarded bottle cap the next day as I cleaned up. If it’s long in duration, it’s wide in possibility, in unexpected connection.

That bottle cap is sitting on my bookshelf, as a reminder.


April 24, 2013 – Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs

You Will Be Here, Mine
This is the best version of this song I have ever heard.

There’s no way to say this without sounding maudlin, but here it is: this song makes me reflexively get a lump in my throat, as sure as a rubber mallet on the kneecap makes you kick. There is something in that stairstep progression of melody at the end of each line that just flat-out breaks my heart on this extremely primal level of sadness that is different from a rational cognitive sadness.

I’ve been kind of knocked flat by the brilliantly unresolved quality of this song, off his latest album Scorpion, since I first heard it.

Little Raider
I don’t know who the protagonist of this story is, but after hearing all the layers that Will describes seeing about who she is, I absolutely feel I know her, broke-ass heart and all.

I, The Kite
This is the best version of this song I have ever heard.

I requested that he play this old one, which was written about Will’s divorce and soundtracked mine, pulverizing me the first time I heard it in 2008. If we’re on the subject of best-worsts, I think the line about “and we tried innocence and we tried formaldehyde / in the end, you were left with the strings and I, the kite” is probably one of the most bitingly flawless collection of words to ever sung describe the end of a relationship. But there’s also something I can’t quite articulate in how purely and clearly-resonant he sings those words out into the room.

Going Back Song (Baptist Generals)
So this song first baffled me, because it seems really simple. When Will first launched into this cover by these Denton, TX/Sub Pop Records friends of his, it kinda sounded like a grocery list, a forgetful Post-it note to oneself: has anybody seen my bag?

But then you realize that it is a song about leaving.

It’s a song about the sidelong glance and the slow shuffle along the wall, towards the door. It is completely soaked in regret, about no longer being clean, about being cross but wanting someone you love to know that they are not the reason why.

You’ve had a bag packed all the time, waiting.


[more pics from the session are on the Fuel/Friends Facebook page, all taken by Kevin Ihle. Audio magic, as always, by the fellas at Blank Tape Records.]

Next chapel session: DAWES.

September 20, 2013

another uninnocent elegant fall :: The National at Red Rocks (9/17/13)


There is a skittish, soft part of me that was scared to go see The National under an almost-full moon at Red Rocks on Tuesday night.

One of my most charming relational characteristics (#sarcasm) is the way I sometimes slither-sidestep away like a silvery fish from things that are too emotionally intense. Oh, sometimes I dive in; lots of times I dive right in. But when it really, truly disarms me and strikes at my heart in a way I can’t defend against, I will go away and need to be coaxed to come back. I love The National — love them probably more than any other band right now, and have for the last seven years. They soundtracked my brutally bloody / tragically doomed / completely beautiful first relationship after my divorce, and have been insidiously inside my head like a brain tapeworm ever since, needling and gnawing at nerves and receptors.

So I was scared to see them Tuesday for these reasons. I wanted to be there, so much, and I knew it was gonna destroy me. I spent much of the concert in my own untouchable zone. The huge gusts of fresh last-days-of-indian-summer wind kept lifting my hair up off my neck, and drying the relentless water that just kept streaming down from my eyes. I alternated between floating mental-miles away and being breathlessly enmeshed. Feeling their songs pound through me as that massive LED light screen flashed images behind them was a phenomenal interpretive experience, as if my thoughts and Matt Berninger’s thoughts and all the dark dreams that populate our subconscious were flashing up there for all to see. I kept tilting my head up to look at that bold moon rising over the red rocks with a shining corona around it for the first hour of its ascent.

My friend (and talented photographer) Brittney Bollay saw them play last night in Seattle, and she expressed how I feel, exactly:

“It’s like [Matt] crawls inside my head and my chest and finds all my thoughts and feelings. When I see him perform it’s like I inhabit him and he inhabits me, just for a little while. It’s this feeling of partial displacement and symbiosis. I’ve never had that experience with any other band.”

Take that video above of “About Today”: something as simple as the juxtaposition of the song (words/melody/drums like a heartbeat keeping you awake) along with the visuals of starkly bare tree branches in winter plus the thickly-billowing black smoke, and then the blue note saturated darkness when he whispers the lines, “Hey, are you awake…” and the ridiculous crescendo crash of the song careening away — that’s it. I’m done for.


I got to meet Matt and the rest of The National deep in the veins of Red Rocks after the show, and it was an out-of-body experience for the reasons that Brittney explains. I didn’t figure out what I really wanted to say to Matt until the next day driving home (which is regretful because, you know …he wasn’t there then), but in addition to the conversation we actually had, I wanted to tell him this:

One time an author friend and I were talking, and he told me that the first time he picked up an Anne Tyler novel, he knew he wanted to be an author. Calling it “a straightforward chemical connection,” he explained to me that: “I think we have sockets in our backs, really complicated, like, thirty-five pin sockets, and sometimes something or somebody plugs right in and there’s no real explanation. Or rather, there is, but it would be memoir-length.”

I think about 35-pin sockets ALL the time because of this conversation, as it pertains to human relationships, my connections to art, music, foreign cities — everything around me (as some of my favorite friends can attest to). What I wanted to try to explain to Matt was that The National fits all 35 of my pins, and plugs right in.

They fit the pin that loves a carefully-crafted sentence which achingly frames words perfectly around that fleeting feeling that is gone before you even really notice that it’s fully there.

They fit the pin that loves a bit of dissonance in my pleasure, whether melodic or existential.

And the pin that wants to blissfully numb out my voraciously-moving brain with narcotic percussion.

Also the pin that (as I wrote about in my review of Trouble Will Find Me) likes to prod at that simultaneous engagement with the sentimental and the fatalistic, things that we traditionally think of as being at odds with each other.

It’s kind of terrifying to love any musician as much as I find myself still loving this band. I am so grateful for that, for the fear and the 35 pins.





I Should Live in Salt
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Sea of Love
Afraid of Everyone
Conversation 16
Squalor Victoria
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Apartment Story
Abel (!!!)
Lucky You
(gahhhh, seriously?)
Slow Show
Pink Rabbits
About Today
Fake Empire

Mr. November
Terrible Love
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

(*that final encore was still as affecting as when I saw them do it in 2010; the mark of an incredible song)


ALL MY PICS FROM TUESDAY ARE OVER AT THE FUEL/FRIENDS FACEBOOK, including those ones with openers Frightened Rabbit and The Local Natives. Photo credit for the last picture above goes to Instagrammer @renae9502.

September 12, 2013

the only time Kid Rock and i will ever agree on anything


Tonight I am putting on our first show in the restored Ivywild School gym, the urban renewal brewery project in downtown Colorado Springs. Today dawned grey and rainy, and tonight will be perfect to curl up with a pint of Bristol’s seasonal Oktoberfest brew and listen to some stories and music.

Davy Rothbart is headlining – the founder of FOUND Magazine and contributor to This American Life. He’ll be sharing stories from FOUND Magazine and from his book, My Heart Is An Idiot. The review on TheRumpus.net says this book “collects 16 essays that read like early Jack Kerouac, if you substituted Charlie Parker for Dr. Dre. Rothbart is boozily looking for love in all the wrong places, hitch-hiking, sleeping on couches in cities across America, dreaming of becoming a writer and romanticizing nearly everything in sight, often leaving him bereft.” Reminds me of this Billy Collins poem.

Here he is, hangin’ out with my man Dave:

The show starts tonight at 7pm, with the first supporting artist being one of my favorite professors at Colorado College (where I work). Idris Goodwin is a hip-hop scholar, spoken word artist, and playwright (“How We Got On,” his play about the genesis of hip-hop adoration in a small middle-America town, is one of the best things I have seen in a while). In addition to having been on HBO’s Def Poetry, HE ALSO HE WAS ON SESAME STREET.

After Idris, one of my most-beloved local musicians, The Changing Colors will be playing. Chapel session alums, Conor Bourgal and friends have released a stunningly lovely new record this year with Joan & The King. It’s a record that is redolent with autumnal layers of beauty:

TICKETS ARE HERE (or at the door), only $10. I hope to see you there; I am genuinely excited for this show and for this new creative space in Colorado.

August 21, 2013

between the shadow and the storm

photo (10)

I spent last week driving across a dusty swath of the American West, from Colorado through Wyoming, to Yellowstone and Montana, trawling the feet of the Grand Tetons and down through Utah and the red canyons. The first night, I stopped in Denver when I realized I had forgotten to bring along Muchacho, the newest record from Phosphorescent (Matthew Houck). I bought it at a record store a few blocks off the highway, filled the gas tank, and set back out as the sun set. I listened to it more than a dozen times on my roadtrip, voraciously, front to back and then through some more.

Muchacho is squally and dirt-streaked, it’s threadbare and greedy, it’s weary and pugnacious, and it is the most perfect soundtrack for that drive. Those vacant miles on the road gave me lots of time to think all of those big, unspun thoughts that cannibalize each other and themselves, unhinging their jaws to swallow their own tails and bring us back where we started. This album does the same.

This record wrestles with divergent, simultaneous truths about the brokenness and the bruises. “I am not some broken thing,” Houck howls pointedly in the second track, the stunning “Song For Zula” (which will be my song of the year), but two short songs later he is singing this simple line, that absolutely breaks my heart every time he says it:

“And now you’re telling me my heart’s sick /
…And I’m telling you I know.”

It’s exactly that messiness (and the direct engagement with it) that spills out of this record to draw me in, underneath the timeless country veneer, under the old-time two-stepping and the lonely desert songs. Everything is tangled; everything is fucked up and bleeding, aching and glowing in the summer.

I keep furrowing my brow as I swim around in this tremendous record. It’s unclear as you work through Houck’s songs if he is the cage or the one being caged, if he is the bloody actor or the stage, if he needs to fix himself up to come and be with you, or is a mewing newborn, just seeing colors for the first time. Is it love that’s a killer come to call from some awful dream, or is he himself the one who would kill you with his bare hands if he were free? I find it fascinating. I read his words like I read poems, letting the unsettledness cling and press on me. They keep knocking me out on this album.

“Terror In The Canyon” is one of the most conflicted songs on the album, and I love it for that, Houck being a thousand different contradictory things from one line of the song to the next. Lately all I want to do in my favorite relationships is to plumb those tumultuous volcanic waters inside of us, where we pull in seven different ways and we are all contained inside one skin. “And I’m not so sorry for the heartwreck,” Houck sings, presumedly to the person he’s just left, “but for each season left unblessed – the new terror in the canyons, the new terror in our chests.” I read something parallel this week from John O’Donohue: “The greatest friend of the soul is the unknown.” I feel like something in that new terror might actually be a blessing, and Houck knows it and I know it.

I hit a few of those massive, glorious late-summer rainstorms out on the plains, my favorite one at sunset whose aftermath is pictured up at the top of this post. It was during those times that I felt like I was right in the middle of the lyrics: “Between the shadow and the storm, a little pup was being born / a little whelp without his horns — o my, o my.” This is an album that’s right there in the bloody genesis struggle between the shadows and the wild, humid, electric storm. Each footfall slips first into one realm, then just as quickly slides into the other. There are so many vulnerable moments of beauty on this album that make me gasp, and so many punches to the face.

The biggest, rambliest, most sharply tangled song on this album is perfectly named “The Quotidian Beasts.” The song starts rhythmic and bright: the morning breaking, the drawing of a bath. Houck tells an allegory of a beast with claws, with familiar black eyes (depression?); he knew she was coming and she was here at last.

I said “It’s you took your claws,
you slipped ‘em under my skin
There’s parts that got outside honey
I want to put ‘em back in
We’ve been playing like children, honey
now we’ll play it like men
Those parts that got outside
I’m gonna put them back in.”

By the end of this struggle of a fable, those quotidian, daily beasts have transformed like Gremlins exposed to water, and are now something altogether different and terrifying. The song ends after seven minutes as a huge Zeppelinesque epic that has exploded into a fire that just burned your house down. It is the perfect summation of what Houck is doing on this record, over and over again.

The first and last tracks on the record are seamless twins, the opening track “An Invocation, An Introduction” and the last “A Koan, An Exit.” The songs run along the same riverbed (making it easy to let the album loop back to track one after the last song finishes, like the beast that eats its own tail) but the more I listen to it, the more I realize how vastly different the last song is, how it feels so much more weary. After all the yelps and the fistfights, some of the brambles have been broken off. The kitchen is scattered with broken dishes. We’re rattling our instruments and raising our voices, and there are these stunning glints and sunflares that glow, but the speakers are blown.

It started golden, gleaming, resplendent. It ends a beautiful ramshackle mess. And we’ll do it again tomorrow, and next year.

We’ll do it ’til the end.


Muchacho (Dead Oceans, 2013)

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August 8, 2013

i regret not leaving the light on

A few hours ago, Josiah from The Head and The Heart and I were in a parking garage in Boulder, finishing cigarettes and coffee, and he sang this plangent and visceral new song for me. I don’t know if it’s finished, but there is something terrific & pure in the ephemerality this afternoon.

Let’s Be Still, the sophomore album from The Head and The Heart, is out October 15.

August 7, 2013

Saturday’s house concert: Small Houses & Tyler Lyle!


I almost can’t sleep, so great is my excitement about the upcoming house concert with Small Houses and Tyler Lyle on Saturday night at my place in Colorado Springs. You should come.

Small Houses definitely released one of my favorite records of the year so far, the incisive and beautiful Exactly Where You Wanted To Be (Yer Bird Records), and I have written about Tyler Lyle (one of my favorite albums of 2011, and a chapel session alum) so very many times because everything he does amazes, rivets, and pierces me.

Come, for this kind of goodness:

[videos by Kevin Ihle, house concert photo by Lindsay McWilliams]

August 6, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #25: Pickwick


Pickwick is a magnetic, six-person band from Seattle that draws people to stop what they are doing and listen, to pause in their conversations and move closer to the stage. Ever since the very first time I saw frontman Galen Disston sing like a man possessed in front of this generous and tightly-wound band of musicians, I was completely taken.

The first songs I heard from them were soulful, old-feeling jams like “Hacienda Motel” and “Blackout” that still give me great joy (and a healthy amount of toe-tapping/hip-swaying). Seeing them live is akin to a tsunami — we all broke the stage together at Doe Bay Fest 2011, and that was a tremendous moment. But the longer I have followed these guys, the more I notice the darker currents swirling up and the complexities emerge.

Last weekend Pickwick headlined Seattle’s Capitol Hill Block Party, and I loved the reactions. The Stranger wrote about their set, marveling over how this band is not the “polite blue-eyed soul” that lots of us associate with the Pickwick name; the author is right that there is a taut thread of shadow running right through the bloody center of this band, and in the live setting it burns palpably. Perhaps this chapel session evokes especially strongly the bonecrushing post-SXSW fatigue, but I love the darker currents here, the layered heaviness that allows these songs to take on a new shape than I had noticed before.

Also, that Rufus Wainwright cover? Get on out of town.

As always, you can download all the tracks for free below (zip file also at the bottom), and make sure to check out all 24 of the past sessions on the right sidebar.

Recorded at Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
St. Patrick’s Day 2013, nighttime


Santa Rosa
I notice hands, all the time. Right now thinking of each of my friends, I can picture their hands. To me, they are like faces but almost more expressive. As you watch these videos of Galen, you might also be mesmerized by the hands that alternately seem to channel the spirits, and knead themselves as he kinesthetically works all the songs out of his lungs. His hands elegantly interpret the songs in a subconscious complement that adds to the songs these guys orchestrate.

Brother Roland
We recorded this session on a Sunday night, with all the shadows gathering, our bellies full of the Irish shepherd’s pie I’d made and the Guinness we had paired it with. It was quiet in the church, after their long hot bright week at SXSW. I was half-expecting Pickwick to blow the roof off the place as they had done in all the big, loud, shiny halls I had seen them in before. The restraint was instead a welcome, haunting oasis. This song gave me goosebumps, from these eerie opening loops – and I still get them now listening back.

The unsettled, beautiful feeling that this song left me with was similar to this Werkmeister Harmoniak movie I keep trying to watch. It’s like swimming up to the surface in a confusing dream.

Halls of Columbia
Starting with the chimey chopsticks piano duet of Cassady and Michael (watch video), this song is the closest my hips got to swaying, even as it is one of the most wrenching songs in their repertoire – seeming to wrestle with spirituality and our roots. As this song congeals, I find myself noticing the instincts of this band in the give and take.

Foolish Love (Rufus Wainwright)
I always ask the bands if there is someone else’s song that they would like to end the chapel session with, and most have something in mind — sometimes an old friend that they cover often, sometimes a wonderfully spur of the moment contrivance. This cover of the first half of the first song on Rufus Wainwright’s haunting self-titled 1998 debut album was definitely an off-the-cuff experiment gone blissfully right. It is uncanny how Galen’s voice hovers over the water, and shimmers strongly through the ether in the same way that Rufus’s does.




All pictures from the chapel session here.

In case you haven’t been following along with my adventures on “The Instagram,” we have six more incredible chapel sessions in the bag that we are working through final audio production for, and that you can look forward to in the coming months:
-Will Johnson
-Desirae Garcia
(with some help from Ark Life on a tune)
-David Wax Museum

Summer has us on a bit of a slow-down (WHAT’S NEW) but watch out for what’s next as we get through the backlog because holy hell have we taken some fine folks through that chapel. I’m a lucky woman to get to share them with you.

[audio production from the fine gents at Blank Tape Records, video and stills by the magnificent Kevin Ihle]

August 2, 2013

i know you wahn it

I am back, relaxed, from Timber! and working on getting the Pickwick Chapel Session ready to post, also wrestling out a think-piece about cynicism & music (of course I am) that may or may not ever see the light …but really all I want to do today is watch this video on repeat.

I want The Roots to be my backing band in everyday life. Everything would be so much better.

Blurred Lines (with The Roots and Jimmy Fallon) – Robin Thicke

Fullscreen capture 822013 111616 AM

July 24, 2013

Timber! all weekend


I am boarding my plane for Seattle, heading to the Timber! Outdoor Music Fest, and man am I looking forward to floating in the river and listening to some unbelievably well-picked artists.

Tickets are still available last time I checked (although it is close to selling out), should you feel a twinge of jealousy right now. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better indulgence.


July 16, 2013

just for a moment, true at first light

I am so taken by that mellifluous, honeyed VOICE.

PHOX is set to arrive on my doorstep in Colorado Springs to kick off their tour on Wednesday night — they are playing a free show that I’ve booked them at in the cool new urban renewal / revival space at Ivywild School, in the Principal’s Office Bar. Please come be delinquent! And be wowed.

This song, “Kingfisher,” is also available (like all of their music) for FREE on their bandcamp site.

Another chance to see them will be along with 417 other incredible bands at the Underground Music Showcase (UMS) this weekend, otherwise known as one of Colorado’s very best music weekends all year. I’ll be there!


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Bio Pic 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.

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