April 13, 2011

The Fuel/Friends Chapel Sessions with Kelli Schaefer

Kelli Schaefer took me by complete surprise the first time I saw her perform, at my inaugural house show back in November. Her voice is massive and swells effortlessly (and shiver-inducingly) from deep places within her, just as her piercingly smart lyrics do. One of the most immediately riveting performers I have seen in years, she has silenced the crowd every time I have seen her since then. In her kinetic, can’t-take-my-eyes-off-of-you magnetism, a friend commented that she is reminiscent of The Tallest Man On Earth’s live show. While their music is divergent, they hold power over a crowd in the same way.

On the same gorgeous Saturday last month when The Head and The Heart performed in the historic Shove Chapel for me, Kelli sat high in the pews, listening underneath the stained glass windows. She took the stage herself to grace us all with two stripped and strong acoustic songs from her debut full-length album The Ghost of The Beast (2011, Amigo/Amiga Records). She was feeling a bit under the weather and apologized for her voice, to which all of us listening laughed out loud. She was incredible. She was magnetic.

I am thrilled to present her as the second Fuel/Friends Chapel Session.

Gone In Love – Kelli Schaefer
This song is one of the most gorgeous and compellingly authentic explorations of what true love looks like that I’ve ever heard. By true love I don’t mean roses and greeting cards — I mean wiping someone’s tears with the sleeve of your jacket, holding someone even though your arms are shaking, and singing hymns to someone you love as they are passing. Serious stuff, the times when we all need love the most. As Kelli sings, “When the burden is love, it is the only weight that ever was worth carrying.” Those of us sitting in the pews may have felt like we were hearing one of the truest sermons around, and by the end of the song I had silent tears running down my face but couldn’t say why. As the song says, “We will beat the nighttime bloody with this song, joy’s strong mallet.” It is a song to push back the darkness, with each other.

Ghost Of The Beast – Kelli Schaefer
Many of Kelli’s songs seem to wrestle honestly with faith and salvation, especially the way that it meets the punch-in-the-face reality of illness, desire, and failure. I appreciate this, very much. This song took on a different dimension as it rang out through the church (interfaith though it is) – “Oh mother, you taught me good, you made me want to do the things that I should/ you told me Jesus’ gonna make me a saint, gonna take my hand and make my life complete/ but the narrow path is closing in / sometimes I think I’m too fat to fit on it…” The song, like all her music, plumbs the depth and is beautiful because of her honesty. When she struck the last note and the song ended hanging cliffside, there were several seconds of stunned silence among us sitting there, we onlookers and the other band, and then we all started clapping as loudly as we could.


We’ve already got a few more Chapel Sessions in the pipeline; stay tuned!

[Huge-hearted thanks again to the fine folks at Blank Tape Records for the audio recording and engineering; the last photo is credit the talented Genevieve Pierson]

March 15, 2011

overcome by music: a house show


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This weekend was drenched full of soul-refreshing music, to the point of overflowing.

So wow, in the span of 24 hours, I got to see The Head and The Heart combust their second sold-out show at Moe’s in Denver before a happy, sweaty crowd (including them dedicating their encore song “Gone” to a very blushing and shocked me), record my very first two acoustic Fuel/Friends Sessions in an empty stone church (stay tuned!), and then host a joyous house show for a packed crowd of about a hundred enthusiastic music fans. It literally was too much for me to absorb, leaving me totally zoned out and kind of wordless on Sunday after the bands left.

This is the condensed, live-wire way that music is supposed to be heard and felt.

At both the Friday night show and the Saturday night house show, one thing that amazed me about the audience was that this time around, it felt like everyone was singing along to all the words for The Head and The Heart’s songs, just in the span of four months since the last time they were here. It was amazing to stand in the sea of that. I also was introduced this weekend to the music of both Ravenna Woods and The Moondoggies through stripped bare-bones performances. Ravenna Woods opened the house show with frontman Chris Cunningham pacing and roiling across the floor with a contained fervor and a song to sing. With just one drum and a xylophone backing him up, their music soared – and they ended with a cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” that was driving but haunting. They really made it their own.

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The Moondoggies were even more elemental, relying mostly on their four voices to carry the audience along with them. They were also the first of the bands to breach the imaginary stage line on the carpet, pushing into the audience which immediately enveloped them and stood with appreciative smiles on their faces. Their humble, affecting four-part harmonies (reminded me a lot of Neil Young) with the round notes plunking out from the banjo are definitely something I have to check out more – I just downloaded two free mp3s from their label Hardly Art.

Kelli Schaefer was so good that I almost had to excuse myself for a moment — the pounding, intensely gorgeous waves of her music were threatening to drown me, if that makes any sense. Ask anyone who was there or who has seen her live: there is something astoundingly special about this girl. Not only can her voice command a room with seemingly no effort on her part (the best definition of a gift?), but her lyrics read like the truest gospel I’ve heard in a long time. The crowd pushed up close around her at her request, so we were face to face in the strongest of communions.

Trying to see all our faces, she climbed atop a chair to sing the riveting “Better Idea” from her new album. Her searing words grapple with the divine meeting the profane; in this song she sings, “Well I can’t treat my body like a temple when it is failing / are you kidding / was that your plan to keep my grounded? It’s not working / and this seed that you have planted is needing things that I can’t give it.” Instead of watching Kelli as she sang, I too watched everyone in that room, and saw a host of intense darknesses and joys flicker across their faces.


The Head and The Heart started their set in the waning minutes before midnight to a room that had sweltered and convected to sauna temperatures, a stark contrast to the refreshing night outside. I appreciate the freedom inherent in a house show that seems to make artists more willing to try out different arrangements and versions of their songs. Last time, THATH did “Cats and Dogs” totally a cappella, and this time it was a stripped-down and resonant version of “Lost in My Mind” that delighted us. And when they lit into “Sounds Like Hallelujah,” I was a bit worried about the stability of the floors in supporting all that dancing.

The house show got some pretty rad coverage, with folks in attendance from KEXP, The Denver Post (for Sunday’s paper?!), and the Seattle music blog Sound On The Sound. I am grateful that they were also there with their lenses and their journalism because as we’ve established, I was completely overwhelmed in all that happiness.

A few pictures and words from KEXP’s James Bailey (full article here, gorgeous shots) who made the trek from Seattle:

(Ravenna Woods, opening the evening)

(bartending Charity invented the signature drink of the evening, The Whiskey River)

(we were actually singing David Bowie’s parts from Labyrinth. wow.)


28-61-thickboxAlso! The silvery screenprinted posters for the house show turned out even more stunning than I had thought. We have some left, and even if you weren’t there, you might like this lovely piece of art of your walls. They are for sale now over at Jupiter Visual for $15.

Our show caught all four of these bands on their peregrine journey down to SXSW, so if you are also (like me, in the morning, once I, uh, pack) please check all of them out. So very worth being on your shortlist. And remember I have David Bazan coming through next week as well (from Pedro The Lion), with tickets still available.

I am ready to do this again. Just give me a few months to recover.

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[all my pictures are here; top photo & Kelli Schaefer bluelight shot credited to Michelle who first told me about this great band playing a tiny venue by her house in Seattle…]

March 10, 2011

there is nothing you have done that has been wasted


I am pretty excited about the Pacific Northwest Invasion (take 2) that is happening this weekend, with the show I am presenting Friday night at Moe’s in Denver (win tickets below!), and then the super-rad intimate Fuel/Friends House Show on Saturday night. All the bands playing are amazing. But I am holding a special reserve of anticipation and trembling for the power that I know comes with Kelli Schaefer.

Kelli opened my very first house show I held, back in November. I have not seen anyone like her. The way she can transfix a room with her somber, strong songs is astounding and when she lets her rock howl loose, hairs stand up on end. Back in November, I recognized the vibe in that room when she played to Jeff Buckley and the Grace album – the bluesy guitar sang and wept while Kelli punctured each song through with startlingly dramatic imagery and beautifully conflicted lyrics. I think we all felt something special crackling in that voice.

She is coming back through here on her tour down to SXSW in support of her masterpiece new album The Ghost of The Beast. I had a really difficult time picking which track to feature from the album, because it is so varied that no single song is representative of Kelli. But this is the song I immediately listened to the most, a benediction of the steadfastness of love and the quiet joy found in holding up others even when our arms are shaking. Listen to that scritchy-scratch opening loop; this song also showcases the intricate ambient noises that Kelli works throughout her music, like you are digging them out from the sounds of the day.

And when she sings here that there is nothing we have done that has been wasted, I believe her.

3051225121-1Gone In Love – Kelli Schaefer

Similar to the organic growth of Drew Grow (who produced the record), Kelli’s full-length comes from collecting a series of singles that she has released in Portland over the last year through the Amigo/Amiga label.

It’s a scavenger approach which yields a surprisingly cohesive album here, but one that defies classification nonetheless. There are times the record feels like waking from a dense sleep (on songs like “Trinkets,” layering through ambient noise), as if Kelli is somewhere singing through dark cotton and vintage microphones. Other songs layer her vocals into an enchanting siren choir (“Home”), or let loose with riffs that would make Led Zeppelin turn an ear. Kelli sings honestly about something called “The Fury,” which one could imagine is an artistic inferno, or the struggles we have within — or something else entirely. In one of my favorite lyrics on the album, she sings:

God would you send me somebody
who understand the fury
who understands the fury well?

He’s gonna have to be a fighter
gonna have to know the story
strong enough to tell it to me when I’ve lost my head
when I’ve lost my head

The way she sings it (that last line, especially) gives me chills every time. This is a woman who seems to see inside of me in a way that not many female artists do.

My other favorite is found in the gothic sonic layers of the title track, “The Ghost of The Beast.” Listen below; it’s sharper and shows some of Kelli’s punkier chops. I’ve spent repeated listens trying to figure out what that sound that starts the song is, and I finally just learned it is Drew Grow scraping a shovel across the ground, and looping the noise. It is disconcerting and perfect.

I contributed to her successful Kickstarter campaign, and earlier this week the album arrived on vinyl. The cover art features a ribcage cut delicately out of paper – protective but delicate, able to be torn. If you come and see her this weekend in Colorado, or buy the album and listen with headphones, I guarantee you will be transfixed.

shows_ive_seenTICKET GIVEAWAY
I have two pairs of tickets to give away to see Kelli Schaefer tomorrow night (Friday) at Moe’s in Denver, next door to the Gothic. She is opening for The Head and The Heart & The Moondoggies (all of whom will be playing my house show Saturday night!). It is going to be a tremendous show. Please email me if you would like to be entered for a pair. Come early – Kelli is on first Friday, around 8pm, and you do not want to miss her.

[top image credit Charity Burggraaf]

March 4, 2011

limited edition poster for the house show with The Head And The Heart

Well if this isn’t just about the raddest thing I’ve ever seen – voila, I present to you the limited edition screenprinted poster that we are going to have available at my house show next Saturday night with The Head and The Heart:

(UPDATE: Buy one online here!)


The tree will be shimmering in silver ink, which I think is amazing with the dark blue and red. Alan Peters of Jupiter Visual in Denver offered to design something to commemorate the night and I am so pleased with what we came up with. Alan is an uber-talented poster artist that I’ve worked with once before for that Lucero poster giveaway. We’ll have hand-numbered copies (100 of them) to sell next Saturday night for $15 each.

Tickets are still available for the show for now, which will be a mini-Pacific-Northwest invasion with Ravenna Woods, The Moondoggies, Kelli Schaefer, and The Head and The Heart.

Um, so basically amazing. See you there.

November 7, 2010

carry us over the finish line / we can see the end but our feet are so tired


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Northwest Supernova 203

On Friday morning I woke up dazed and residually sparkling from the previous two nights of music. It was as if you had dipped me into a vat of iridescence and it was still clinging all over me the next day, and still.

Wednesday night I finally saw Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives at the Larimer Lounge up in Denver (ooh! listen here!), a show and a band I have been looking forward to experiencing live ever since I became addicted to their album in August. The next night they came down to have dinner and play a show at my house, along with the breathtaking Kelli Schaefer.

It was my first experience putting together a house show, and it was every bit as gratifying as I had hoped. I see shows in venues by the scads all throughout the year and have the routine down pat: ID, wristband, stamp, bar, angle by the stage, small talk, lights go down, earplugs come out, rockrockrock, cheer. [end scene]. The things I love most about music are the connective, adhesive, lightning bolts of electricity that sometimes (if you are lucky) come out and zap you as you listen. I don’t know what you’re in it for, but that is what I am in it for. And a house show is the most undiluted way I’ve seen to get there.

On Friday morning I sent DGPW on their way with coffee and dragged myself to work, and tried to string together a few coherent words to friends by email about the musical earthquake I’d just experienced, including Sara Brickner who wrote the first review that caught my attention in the first place. I told her that I was speechless, and then revised that no, I was just reeling. “in the last song, when i was singing along to ‘it all comes right‘ with everything in me and we were all harmonizing with no mics and bending at the waist to get down deep in our souls and stomping our feet and whoa whoa whoaaaaa ing– …i was just happy. ‘frigatebirds, acme anvils, holy fucking shit.’ yes.”

I didn’t know that Drew has been making music for years, and the depths of his songwriting make a bit more sense given that he’s been honing his craft and his words for a while. All of the depth and musical diversity that’s present on the album floored the crowd both nights. I still am not any better at categorizing what it was like, though, what kind of music he makes. All songs share a penchant for incisive, thoughtful lyricism, but those words may be screamed over rowdy feedback in “Bootstraps,” catcalled in a dirty falsetto on bluesy tracks like “Company,” or nearly whispered in the communal pouring-out of spirit on “It All Comes Right.” You’re just gonna have to go see him live to figure him out. Trust me.


But rewinding to Kelli Schaefer, who opened the set with just herself, her voice, and her bluesy sorrowful electric guitar. One local blogger likened the vibe in that room to Jeff Buckley and Grace, and I was pretty surprised to sit there for a moment and then agree with her. Every song had some bitingly sharp, beautifully conflicted, blindingly rich lyric and chord.

She closed her spellbinding set with a song from her 2008 Lasso The Moon EP, her and her guitar in a big open room:

Carry Us Over – Kelli Schaefer

Something about the first lines gut-punched me with the surprise of identification: “jesus, turn this wine back into water, so we can quench our poor thirsty souls.” It hit me as a rejection of the miraculous in favor of the necessary, a request for a little less magic and, perhaps, a little less grace. It caught my attention immediately and transfixed me into her songs for the hundredth time during her set.

I sat on the floor by the staircase, with Drew and several Pastors’ Wives scattered around me and behind me on the stairs. When she got to the chorus, “so carry us over the finish line, we can see the end but our feet are so tired / it’s obvious we’re useless on our own…” all of their voices picked up easily on the harmonies as if the walls were beginning to seep melody. It was the best kind of surround sound, and it made my heart split wide open. It was a moment I desperately needed, one of those moments of musical communion, redemption, and surprise. I need to be carried through on those waves, often.

Kelli has a voice that needs to be heard, broadly. She is one of the most immediately arresting, intelligent women I have seen perform in a very long time. Sharing the same Amigo/Amiga label with Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives, she is endeavoring to fund her debut full-length through the Kickstarter project, just as Crooked Fingers and many other worthy artists have. She is trying to raise the requisite $4000 by November 18th. Please check it out if you would like to pledge to her full album by buying it in advance (with some super cool extra perks). I just did.

It is true, as the Sound on the Sound blog says, that “this woman right here, she’s a hurricane.”

The Doe Bay Sessions – Kelli Schaefer

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[all photos from both shows at the Fuel/Friends Facebook Page]

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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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