July 15, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #31: PHOX

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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.

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PHOX
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
July 17, 2013

Slow Motion
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:



Espeon
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.

No Lion (Boom Forest cover)
Oh MAN.

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.

I keep putting this song on repeat. Wow.



DOWNLOAD THE ZIP: PHOX CHAPEL SESSION

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All pictures from that afternoon are on the Fuel/Friends Facebook Page, if you wanna see more from that day.

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.

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[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.]

June 7, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #30: David Wax Museum

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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.



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FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #30
DAVID WAX MUSEUM
July 7, 2013 – Shove Chapel
Colorado Springs, CO

Big Heart of Yours

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?



Let Me Rest

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.



Born With A Broken Heart

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?”



La Guacamaya

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.

ZIP: DAVID WAX MUSEUM CHAPEL SESSION

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SEE ALL PICTURES OVER AT THE FUEL/FRIENDS FACEBOOK

[as usual, thank you to the wonderful sound production from my Blank Tape Records homies, and Kevin Ihle who took all the marvelous video and still photography]

April 11, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #29: Vandaveer

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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.

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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.”

The Great Gray (with Ark Life)

It was great fun to welcome our friends in Ark Life into the church to loan their stomping and clapping percussion to this last song. This is another song from the tremendous Dig Down Deep record.

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ZIP: VANDAVEER CHAPEL SESSION


SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT!
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.

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TICKETS ARE ON-SALE NOW!

January 21, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #28: Desirae Garcia

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I’m strong for my size, but I’m small / …and I don’t want to carry your load anymore,” Desirae Garcia sang these words as her opening lyrics for this chapel session at the La Foret campgrounds during the Meadowgrass Music Festival last year (same day we recorded Dawes). The words are indicative of how effortlessly direct her songs can seem in their simplicity, but one listen will show how those unassuming songs pack a punch through their quiet and insistent assertion.

I first wrote about Desi (who is also 1/5 of the celebrated Colorado Americana outfit The Haunted Windchimes) on my springtime mix, with her song “Hardly Are You Lonely,” off her Ill-Fitting EP (Blank Tape Records). I marveled at how her songs navigate dark waters with fearlessness, a flower on the ocean floor. Desi also sings with Planes, who contributed a hummably retro track to my summer mix this past year.

Her work with the ‘Chimes is wonderful, but I’ve so enjoyed watching her bloom through songs all her own, and this chapel session is long overdue for such a light. All through her leanly-sculpted melodies shines a beautifully resolute voice.

This is a simple session that I think will stick with you.


FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #28: DESIRAE GARCIA
May 25, 2013 – Taylor Memorial Chapel at La Foret
Meadowgrass Music Festival

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Honest Song
The songs that Desi pens are ephemeral in the sense that you could almost dismiss them in a wisp, in a moment. But Desi doesn’t let them, or herself, be dismissed. The songs sometimes seem unfinished and stop abruptly, or pause like a thought you lost — but that’s my favorite part, because they just drive you back to listen again. This is indeed an honest song. video is here

Bed of Roses
This song is from her Ill-Fitting EP, from where the collection of songs draws its name. “You weren’t listening to a word I had to say and now I’m ill-fitting…” she sings, with the sweet additions here of a delicate Casio melody from Alex Koshak (a multi-instrumentalist and drummer in town who plays with roughly 27 bands) and Desi’s bandmate Inaiah Lujan from the Haunted Windchimes on guitar and vocal harmonies.

Flaws
I like this thing there where Desi sings and two talented gentlemen croon her gentle backup harmonies. For a song that honestly addresses things like flaws, struggles, and enemies, it sounds damn charming. video is here

Dances Fantastic (Nena Dinova cover)
This is a pretty amazing cover, of a 2002 song originally by Neva Dinova (Saddle Creek). Where theirs is sonically spacey and full of weird wonderful sounds, Desi’s version is sweetly direct, but with that hint of darkness. The effect is a bit unnerving, like some David Lynch soundtrack contribution. Wonderful.

Second Hand Love (Connie Francis cover)
Finally, Desi gave us a bonus cover song, because we couldn’t decide which one we wanted. We’ll take both, definitely. Desi’s rendition of this 1962 top-ten hit single turns it from a shuffling two-step dance number over to something spare and much more sad. video is here


ZIP: DESIRAE GARCIA CHAPEL SESSION

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Also, good news from the chapel and the mixing studio! We are working concertedly to get caught up with releasing all the wonderful sessions we have recorded in the last few months. You have the following to look forward to:

Vandaveer (with Ark Life joining for one song)
David Wax Museum
Phox
Small Houses
Alex Dezen (of The Damnwells)
Gregory Alan Isakov

Yeah! Those are coming in that order, in the coming weeks and months.


[photos and video as always by Kevin Ihle, audio production by the wonderful Blank Tape Records]

October 30, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #27: Dawes

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At the Meadowgrass Music Festival in Colorado’s Black Forest in May, right before the fires ravaged the surrounding area but left the festival grounds untouched, we brought three of the members of Dawes into the small historic chapel where we recorded The Barr Brothers last year (and Desirae Garcia also this year).

There is a blissfully-simple openness to this chapel session — it’s just the three guys, one guitar, and a whole hell of a lot of unjaded harmonies in that echoey room with charming folk-art paintings on the adobe walls.

All of the Dawes songs I have been drawn to the most over the years are the ones with a vulnerable, wide-open heart on display, and harmonies to match. There is something in that sound that resonates with this (vulnerable, wide-open) heart, and today is a perfect time for me to post this. Sometimes opening yourself up to being vulnerable sucks, but Dawes makes it sound so damn alluring.

This sort of golden, expansive, late Sixties Laurel Canyon sound is how I love Dawes best, and I was thrilled to get to sit there while this happened and now to share it with you. I was interested to read of the band’s connections with both Jackson Browne and Elvis Costello on this record (?!) and the resulting songs wouldn’t sound out of place alongside either of those guys’ output.

This little session is one for the windows down in the hills.


FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION: DAWES
May 25, 2013 – Meadowgrass Music Festival
La Foret Campgrounds / Taylor Memorial Adobe Chapel

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Side Effects
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that you probably should not ever listen to this while sitting in your darkened living room alone with a glass of something amber. All the ghosts, all the other paths you took instead, all the aches — they will accost you. And, of course, this might be alright. But be warned that this is the best kind of sweet and plaintive and sad killer.




Someone Will
Those harmonies. I mean, COME ON.




Hey Lover (Blake Mills)
With a chorus that will stick in your head for weeks, this song also has charming lyrics like “I wanna raise with you and watch our younglings hatch / fuckin’ make the first letters of their first names match.” As our sound guy Conor told me later regarding that line: “A well placed fuckin’ is such a treat.” I agree.

Blake Mills used to be in the forerunner band to Dawes with Taylor Goldsmith (a band called Simon Dawes), so this is a charming choice of hybrid-cover.



ZIP: DAWES CHAPEL SESSION

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[video and photos by Kevin Ihle, as always, and the superb audio work from the Bourgal brothers at Blank Tape Records]

October 7, 2013

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

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“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.


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FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #26: WILL JOHNSON
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.

ZIP FILE: WILL JOHNSON CHAPEL SESSION



[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.

August 6, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #25: Pickwick

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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.

FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #25: PICKWICK
Recorded at Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
St. Patrick’s Day 2013, nighttime

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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.



ZIP: PICKWICK CHAPEL SESSION

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All pictures from the chapel session here.



UPCOMING CHAPEL SESSIONS:
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
-Dawes
-Desirae Garcia
-Vandaveer
(with some help from Ark Life on a tune)
-David Wax Museum
-Phox!

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]

April 9, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #24: Nathaniel Rateliff

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Nathaniel Rateliff may have one of the most piercingly uncommon voices I have yet welcomed into the chapel. It zings through the air when he lets it loose and it is absolutely impossible not to turn your head and gape. Nathaniel makes music that you can’t ignore, and you really don’t want to. Looking like a hard-swilling sailor stumbled off a boat on leave with his turquoise rings and pearl snaps, he disarms with his cathedral-filling voice that grew up singing in churches and, likely, breaking a heart or two.

I remember hearing Nathaniel years ago, fronting his band Born In The Flood, opening for Kings of Leon on a rainy Denver night. Even with a full, loud band behind him I could tell that this was something special. He has honed his voice as a spry instrument over the years I have known him, and now I find it as powerful in the whisper as the wail. There’s also this wry half-smile behind everything I hear Nathaniel sing, a patience and an insight that this song will, eventually, get you, as it alternates cartwheeling in the best wandering-troubadour showmanship and quietly probing in truths and failures.

Three of these songs are brand new creations, unveiled just for us in the chapel, the grey afternoon before our house show. Nathaniel seems to be in a fomenting fertile stage right now, starting new soul bands (Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, probably my favorite new band name in a good while) and playing with old friends in groups like Miss America (with longtime bandmate Joseph Pope III and other Denver luminaries, incidentally playing May 10 in Colorado Springs for The Changing Colors CD release party).

All of these new songs ache, all of them need to be listened to. I am so glad he’s writing like a maniac these days, and we get to reap the results.



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FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #24: NATHANIEL RATELIFF
February 21, 2013 – Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs

No Place To Fall (Townes Van Zandt)
Nathaniel started the session with this cover, which seems almost unfair to knock the wind out of me so soon. There is such a gentle lilt and cadence to the way he sings those cripplingly sad lyrics about knowing you need to fall, like a slow-motion tumble down stairs. And that sideways wince when he sings the lines, “but I’m sure wantin’ you…”. I didn’t think there was a way to make Townes songs even sadder, but somehow — there it is.




Don’t Get Too Close
This song dances almost mischievously, an easy shuffle even as it warns us not to come any closer, as if it could spin away at any moment. “Wait, don’t come any closer,” it warns, maybe kindly, maybe evasively. “It was something you couldn’t see.” (watch the video)


Forgetting Is Believing
There’s a line in one of my most-beloved poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which places us “when the evening is spread out against the sky, like a patient etherized upon a table” and in the streets there is “the yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes, licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.”

This song curls and nuzzles and rises hazily just like that, the siren song of forgetting. (watch the video)


Closer
“Can I play that?” Nathaniel asked, eyeing towards the back of the stage at the shining Steinway piano. “Yes, PLEASE,” I replied — and wow. What tumbled out of him is this rueful, elegiac hymn that tugs at long winter days and growing older in frozen slumber.

I’ve been thinking of piano a lot lately, as we fight through the final, sometimes-brutal days of Spring before Summer. Songs like this are why.

DOWNLOAD THE ZIP: NATHANIEL RATELIFF CHAPEL SESSION



[thanks to our new film intern (just gave her that title) Kendall Rock, who did a tremendous job, to Kevin Ihle for the post-processing, and for the wonderful Blank Tape Records audio talent]

March 4, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #23: Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds

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“I want this guy to go out into the world and become the next Otis Redding …I mean, if there was a job opening for the next Otis currently available,” I leaned over and whispered into my friend Ian’s ear while Mike Clark absolutely owned the stage at Shove Chapel during the recording of this session.

Yes, I’m aware that that’s a loaded statement: the broken-down soul of Otis Redding is ingrained my Georgia roots, since my Grampy went to the same Baptist church as Otis did and I like to think it’s in my veins somehow. I’ve known Mike Clark for a few years, as he’s a major player in the Colorado Springs independent music scene (The Haunted Windchimes, The Jack Trades, that “Hey Daisy” handless bike video made up the street from me), but watching his transformation on that chapel stage into an anachronistic band-leading soul singer was notable. My first thoughts were, “Where the hell did this come from? From a 34 year-old land surveyor from Calhan, Colorado?!”

Mike didn’t start playing music until he was 27, and it appears to have been a fairly intense salvific experience for him, that transformation. It reminds me some of Ray LaMontagne’s story, except instead of hearing a Stephen Stills song on the radio and deciding to follow music with everything in ya, for Mike it was a harmonica he bought on a roadtrip and then played for the rest of the 25-hour journey home. You can see that spirit in these performances.

This is a session to tenderize, to dissolve defenses. The chapel session feels a little more gaunt and starkly soulful than his new record. As my friend Adam said, “There’s a darkness here like so much of that older stuff had in it, below the R&B feel. It’s the ‘blues’ part of R&B that people forget about.” Mike’s startling voice pierced that whole church. You felt the weariness, but there’s a wide-open, unadorned quality to the candor here also. These are A.M. radio songs that wake you in the middle of the night or keep running through your head as you whistle the melody.

BTR-025-StoreThe songs on Round and Round, his debut record with The Sugar Sounds, make you sway and tap like old rock & roll 45s. This chapel session feels more focused on Mike’s tremendous emergent voice — it’s one you have to stop what you are doing to give it the attention it deserves. And Mike is backed here by an ace band of some of the best other musicians in town: Inaiah Lujan (Mike’s bandmate in The Haunted Windchimes), Alex Koshak (The Flumps), Grant Sabin, Ian Bourgal (The Changing Colors), and Marc Benning (34 Satellite). It is so damn fun to watch them play together.

Put this session on and lay flat somewhere and just listen. Every song they performed for this session feels to me like an immediate classic, something you’ve known for a long time. Out of five songs here, only one is on Mike’s current record. He’s writing songs without stopping, and I am so glad that we get to journey with him.



FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #23:
MIKE CLARK & THE SUGAR SOUNDS
January 25, 2013 / Shove Chapel

Losing My Cool
Just….go on get out of town. Again: A 34-YEAR-OLD LAND SURVEYOR FROM CALHAN, COLORADO. Something tells me in my belly that with this kind of fire in him, and this band behind him, he won’t stay our local secret for long. Holy cow — some of the most fun I’ve had in church, this one.

Take A Chance
The best descriptor I can come up with for this song is that it is hopefully devastating, wearily wooing. It’s a gun-shy swoon — and I get that. There may be nothing scarier than asking someone to take a chance on you. I like the purpose with which Mike does it here.

Upside Down
Oh man when the full band and the horns kick in on this song, it is a golden flash of ebullience. Also, this is one to dance to — but it’s all in the hips. Watch the video here.

That’s How Strong My Love Is (Otis Redding)
Yeah, of course this happened. It’s so humble the way he tackles this one, with all of O.V. Wright‘s wonderfully romantic original lyrics like “I’ll be the rainbow when the storm is gone, wrap you in my colors and keep you warm…” It’s perfect. You should definitely watch it here.

What Lovers Do
At the end of the session, five of us stood around the piano as almost an afterthought, and sang along sweet little harmonies and “ooooh”s to this new creation of Mike’s. I don’t know if I’ll ever post a chapel session song that boasts more simple joy than this one. Watch it here.

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ZIP FILE: MIKE CLARK & THE SUGAR SOUNDS CHAPEL SESSION

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[visuals by Kevin Ihle, audios by Blank Tape Records. I have rad friends.]

February 4, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #22: Night Beds

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Winston Yellen walked into the side door of the chapel on one of the last days of 2012, with a denim shirt and an easy smile, his younger brother Abe along to play drums and piano. Gregarious and unassuming in appearance, he looks like any other 23 year-old from Colorado Springs, but when he sat down at the microphone and opened his mouth to sing the a capella “Faithful Heights,” we all fell completely silent. Dumbstruck. That voice just flies out of him, with no warning.

The music of Night Beds walloped me with a colossal punch the first time I listened to it, and so far this has not lessened, not even a little bit. As someone who both deeply loved Jeff Buckley and also remembers the earliest days of Bon Iver, I feel like this guy has something in his music that could be listened alongside of both, and I would permanently give access for this music to get at all of the rawest parts of my psyche. It’s magnificent torment, this record – direct and unadorned.

We recorded these songs a couple of days before the year 2012 ended, while Winston was home from Nashville for the holidays. The handful of us in the church were speechless at the power in Winston’s voice, and the smart, literate force of his lyrics. There’s so much melancholy weighted in the single electric guitar that Winston plays here — those bluesy notes hung in the air and felt like water in my lungs, slowly accumulating. Winston floats and swims strongly through the spaces in his song, letting his exceptionally powerful voice pierce through the resonance.

His debut record Country Sleep is out today in the UK, tomorrow in the U.S. Like I said at the end of my last post of 2012, I think Winston’s efforts could be one of the most notable and promising of the year that lies ahead of us. Stay tuned for the in-depth, fascinating interview I got to conduct with Winston; his first in the United States. I hope to post that later this week.



FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION: NIGHT BEDS
DECEMBER 29, 2012

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Faithful Heights / Ramona
First off, stop what you’re doing before you click play here, because you’re not going to be able to continue doing whatever you were doing once Winston starts singing. Secondly, I like these versions even more than the album because they manage to come off even more potent and honest. We talked a lot about these two songs, which bravely open up Country Sleep. I wondered who they were about, who Winston was inviting to crawl into his arms for comfort, who Ramona was, and why she needed to fuck everything she’d been taught. I was surprised and intrigued to learn that both of these could be about him, or for him. Changes the whole perspective, in a poignantly sharp and self-compassionate way, when we sing to a side of ourselves.

22
At the end of our session I commented to Winston that this was a fitting song for him to play, for our 22nd chapel session recording. This song sings about hearing the trains in the August night, and that’s shaped how I picture it: on a Tennessee hillside somewhere in the dense summer heat. His voice keens like a lonesome whistle in the darkness while the percussion clacks over the rail ties. This is a darkly lush song, on a lush album.

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Lost Springs
And I never have known / why I feel so alone…” The more I listen to the new Night Beds record, the more I feel like this line repeated in this song might be the theme of it, in a way that the movie Melancholia fought with its fists pounding against the giant meteor of depression hurtling towards earth and threatening everything we love and enjoy. The sweet piano topnotes that Abe adds on the grand piano feel almost like stardust falling.

Everything Trying (Damien Jurado)
So, GUYS — I am not sure my heart can handle it if people keep covering Damien Jurado songs. I mean, I love it obviously. And: ouch.

This is Winston’s amazing take on Jurado’s crusher from Caught In The Trees (2008). Oh, I’ll be sailing on your deep blue eyes.

Download this whole session in a click. And go get his record.
ZIP: NIGHT BEDS CHAPEL SESSION



MORE VIDEOS:

“Lost Springs”

“22″



[video and photo by Kevin Ihle, audio by the Blank Tape Records studs]

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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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