October 19, 2018

My faith and how it is impacted by Scott Hutchison

If you are reading this, it means I finally published my essay on Scott Hutchison. Writing about Scott and his death has been an arduous process.

I have been sitting on the "finished" essay for quite some time, but have hesitated to publish it for the obvious reasons. It took me months to write, and I could have published it in early September, but I finally clicked "make public" on October 19.

Thank God I’m Full of Holes; What Scott Hutchison taught me about brokenness, love, God, and community

Before we get into more details, if you are new to Scott Hutchison and his band Frightened Rabbit, here is a YouTube playlist of the songs used and lyrics quoted in my essay:

Besides the obvious difficult topics of suicide and faith, the primary reason I hesitated to share the essay with the world--and most importantly my family and friends--is because of the apostasy. Not that I have renounced my faith in Jesus; because that is faith is stronger than ever. However, it is clear that that the renunciation of the traditional Christian view on the afterlife could lead those who know me to become upset or confused.

If you are upset with me, or worried for me, I hope you take comfort that--in spite of abandoning certain beliefs and theology--I feel closer to Jesus than I ever have at any point in my life. And that my faith and spirituality is far deeper--and honestly real and deep for the first time--after I renounced eternal hell.

Recently Dustin Kensrue (lead singer of Thrice and outspoken Christ-follower) expressed his doubts about eternal hell and other traditional Christian beliefs in a long Twitter thread. While I considered embedding them here, I don't want to shift the focus too much from Scott and myself, so I'll only give a link (read the whole thread, not just the first Tweet). I bring this up because the dozens of responses were shocking--well, sort of. The responses should be shocking, but honestly they are typical. People are worried that Dustin has lost his salvation or faith, when in fact, the things he brings up demonstrate that he is thinking deeper than he has ever done before.

I don't blame people for responding the way they did, because five to ten years ago, I would have responded the same way. I would have assumed Dustin was no longer a Christian. However, this demonstrates the flawed nature of this perspective; somehow the belief in eternal hell has become a requirement for salvation in certain churches. But the entire nature of Christianity should be that it doesn't matter what one says, does, or thinks--it all hinges on Jesus' forgiveness. As outlined in the essay, I was liberated when I discovered that my beliefs on the afterlife--along with a whole slew of other beliefs and theology--had no bearing on my relationship with God.

It may important for me to restate my belief that Jesus is God, and that while my view of scripture/the Bible has changed (inspired but not infallible), I strongly confirm both the Nicene Creed and Apostles' Creed. The concepts of heaven, hell, judgement, and forgiveness are mentioned in these creeds, but in ways that point me towards God's love and forgiveness for of all his creation.

I have a hard time explaining any of my "theology" any longer, and what I used to attempt to make systematic I now view as mysterious. If I have to give it a label, I would now say I am a "Christian Universalist."

My view on heaven and hell shifted after much contemplation, thought, and prayer--and what I feel was leading from the Holy Spirit. I then read a few books on the subject that confirmed my thoughts and feelings. I recommend both of these highly:

"Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem" by Bradley Jersak

"The Evangelical Universalist: The Biblical Hope That God's Love Will Save Us All" by Gregory MacDonald

September 16, 2018

Poor Old Lu Kickstarter; pledge now!

Poor Old Lu is half-way through their Kickstarter campaign to release their debut album Mindsize--celebrating its 25th anniversary--on vinyl and deluxe CD. If funded, this includes never-before heard demos, photos, artwork, etc.

136 people have pledged at the time I write this, and 300 or so are needed. Pledge now! If you are a fan, then your participation is essential, and if you are not, now's the time to become one. Many Lu fans might prefer their later work, and desire it more on vinyl, but in order for those reissues to come, this one needs to be successful.

Poor Old Lu was an essential member of the 1990's Seattle underground scene, and close friends and collaborators of Jeremy Enigk. They existed during the rise of grunge and emo, but were neither. They may be the most unclassifiable band I am aware of.

The most thorough post I have ever done on the band is What if Lu had Lived? Poor Old Lu's top 25 songs.

Here is one of the few videos of Poor Old Lu in their early years, and one of the best songs on Mindsize:

August 9, 2018

The Prayer Chain, Dakoda Motor Co., Pedro the Lion, and friendship

A couple days ago I was in Lansing, Michigan and bought the Sleigh Bells album Jessica Rabbit at The Record Lounge. I was having a conversation with the owner of the store, and we began talking about Sleigh Bells. I told her how my appreciation for the band increased dramatically last week after I listened to a podcast with singer Alexis Krauss. The podcast barely mentioned music; it was about Krauss' work as a teacher--first as a NYC public school teacher and now in outdoor education. After that podcast and during a long drive I listened to all five Sleigh Bells albums in a row. I have a radically different understanding and appreciation for the band now that I understand more about Krauss. She is not only a musician, but also a compassionate, thoughtful educator.

The owner of The Record Lounge gave me a discount on the album, probably because we had the conversation. Next time I am in Lansing I will definitely be back.

My opinions about the store and about Sleigh Bells are now formed in relationship. Not that I am friends with the owner or Krauss, but I now know them at least a little and have a connection to who they are, not just what they do. (Final comment on Sleigh Bells for this post: I bought the LP not just because I enjoy the music, but I love the bad-ass album cover and artwork.)

This brings me to the actual topic, the fact that I saw Dakoda Motor Co. and the Prayer Chain in concert. IN 2018. The show was wonderful of course as I have been a fan of both of these bands for 25 years. The show was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign the Prayer Chain ran earlier this year to press the album Shawl on vinyl for its 25th anniversary. I pledged to the campaign for the vinyl only back in January. The only planned show was in California at the time, and I of course was living in Germany and had no idea where I would be come summer.

At the conclusion of the successful campaign in February a Nashville date was added. I still had no idea where I would be living on August 4, but considering I am from Nashville and have family in the area, I gave it a shot and hoped.

It wasn't until last week I finally decided to go. Thankfully I had some credit card miles built up to get my plane tickets and I was on my way from Detroit to Pittsburgh to Nashville and back. Not only did I go for the music, I also went because it is the closest I will ever get to time travel. But the main reason I made the trip was because of friendship.

Being at the show was surreal. In many ways it felt like I was back in the mid-90's. Dakoda Motor Co. was my first favorite band back when I was 16, and the Prayer Chain was in my top 5 favorite bands for all of the 90's. I'll included some facts about the show itself, but the heart of the experience and my writing will be the people I saw and had conversations with.

When I finally committed to attend the show, I reached out to my friend DC. DC and I went to Samford together for a couple years in the 90's, and then he transferred to Auburn. I think we talked about the Prayer Chain the first time we met, and his email address was sunstoned@_____. Some of my favorite memories with DC are going to shows and Auburn Football games, including the 1997 Iron Bowl.

From a music perspective, DC and I bonded when we drove from Birmingham to Atlanta in Fall of 1995 to see Starflyer 59 and Morella's Forest play at the Pterodactyl. I had seen them both play the night before at the Crush Warehouse, but he missed it so I insisted we must go again the following night. Not only did those two bands play again, Joe Christmas was also on the bill. The highlight of the night though was a surprise appearance from Luxury. I have written about this experience on my blog numerous times before. It was Luxury's first performance since their horrible van crash (documentary about that and the band releasing soon). Lee Bozeman walked on to the stage, said, "Hello, we're Starflyer 59," and Luxury launched into "Solid Gold."

I hadn't seen DC since the late 90's, but we have been in touch off and on over the years. It was terrific to connect, and just as the Prayer Chain was the first thing we might have ever talked about, the band brought us together 23 years later.

Speaking of Birmingham and the Crush Warehouse, the next friend I saw was JW. He and I first met as he worked in the music department at LifeWay Christian bookstore in Birmingham. I bought countless CDs from him over the years, including The Prayer Chain's Antarctica. We also attended numerous Crush Warehouse shows together.

JW eventually moved to Nashville and I reconnected with him at Grimey's, where he has now worked for a long time. He posts frequently on Instagram of the albums he is spinning and is a fun follow. JW helped me arrange pre-show dinner at the Peg Leg Porker, and he, myself, DC, KP, AH, and two other guys all ate and hung out.

The final Birmingham connection of the night was GH, who I had actually never met in person until Saturday. However, we later realized he and I had attended countless shows together, but had just never met. The most notable mutual concert experience was the Prayer Chain's 1995 show at the Crush Warehouse, in which I worked the merch table. That show was much more significant to him, as it was his first date with his wife!

GH and I have chatted online a lot over the years, and at the show he let me know what led him to first become aware of me as a "music writer": In 2002 I and another crazy friend wrote a LONG letter to the editor of HM magazine. Surprisingly for us, they published it in full! I am not sure if it is still on the HM website, but a few years ago I put it up on my blog for posterity sake.

My brother KP came to the dinner and show as well. He and I of course have countless musical memories, but I'll focus on one. When I was 16 and he was 14 we listened to a radio show called the A-Zone in Nashville, hosted by deejays Dr. Tony Shore and KC Jones. And guess what, KC Jones was at the show on Saturday.

I went to talk to KC to remind him of the memory with my brother. KP called into the A-Zone in 1994 and won a contest. The prize was a copy of the Prayer Chain's Shawl. KC and Dr. Tony had promised to mail it to Keith, but forgot for months. Well, in January of 1995 KP and I were at a Fleming and John and Hoi Polloi concert in the basement of a Vanderbilt frat house. In between bands, we went outside to a payphone and called into the A-Zone, which was being aired live at the time. The hosts were of course jealous. A couple weeks later we visited the radio studio on a Saturday night and KP got his Shawl cassette. And we were able to give KC and Dr. Tony a Fleming and John demo cassette (this was before the initial release of Delusions of Grandeur).

The other three guys at the dinner I had never met before, but one, AH, I had also been aware of for quite some time. Number one, he is the owner of Theory 8 Records, who in the past couple years has put out stuff from Idle Bloom, Bully, and others. But most notably for me, he put out the 2003 Forget Cassettes album Instruments of Action, one of my all-time favs. (My brother, KP, also eventually played keyboards in Forget Cassettes a decade later). AH's most notable discovery is probably the band Copeland, but as he told me on Saturday, he never got much credit for that one.

I also started following AH on Instagram a few years ago, and have been fascinated by his restoration of vintage audio gear. We discussed my recent re-acquisition of my dad's old Marantz receiver which a friend had refurbished for me.

Most of my friends I found and connected with before or after the show, but one found me in the middle of it: CB. CB and I met at Beach Project in Panama City in 1996. We also connected about the Prayer Chain quickly, and CB's high school band opened for them in Memphis. CB and I both had radio shows at Samford, which were the best things WVSU had going for it. I also hadn't seen CB since the Samford days in the late 90's.

Dakoda Motor Co.

(Video is actually from the California show; haven't found a good one from the Nashville show yet.)

Setlist (which was honestly nearly perfect):
"Wind an' Sea"
"Need a Love"
"Grey Clouds"
"Rockin' in the Mall"
"Stand Up"
"Ooh, That Girl"
"All Good Generals"
"Trip to Pain"

Song they didn't need to play: "Rockin' in the Mall"; fun live, but not one of their better songs.

Biggest omission: Would have loved to hear "Ocean Seems".

I am thankful I got to see Dakoda Motor Co. back in 1995, but that was with Melissa on vocals, as Davia had left the band at that point. Seeing them with Davia was terrific (and once again, surreal).

The Choir
Honestly not much of a Choir fan. I like their better songs, but the majority of their catalog bores me. The Choir did sound good, and they had Steve Mason from Jars of Clay on guitar and Wayne Everett on percussion. I had a bad The Choir experience at Cornerstone one year that was moderately relived last Saturday night. I got to tell the story a couple times as well:

Midnight shows were a common thing at Cornerstone. One year, when I didn't attend a midnight show, and instead went to bed, I had trouble sleeping because of an especially noisy show. You are probably thinking some hardcore show or something and that I was just outside the tent. Nope, it was The Choir, and they were playing the song "Circle Slide"; and I was camped far away in an area we called "the shire". My memory is that Dan Michael's saxophone solo lasted hours, and I was having nightmares about it. Anyway, The Choir did play the same song again with Michaels on sax. I am not sure how long the solo was for, but it was too long for me.

GH's wife described them in this way: "The Choir a bit bland and bloated."

The Prayer Chain

I shot that video, but this one (below) is better, and also includes Jyro! So cool that Jyro sang with them in California, and sad but understandable he didn't make it to Nashville.

"Dig Dug"
"Like I Was"
"The Hollow"
"Never Enough"
"Big Wheel"
(sorry no Wayne poem in French)
"Sky High"

Song they didn't need to play: "Chalk"
I have nothing against the song, but it took four takes for them to play the song.

Biggest omission: This is different for everyone, but I would have replaced "Chalk" with another Antarctica song, "Friend or Foe". Thrilled that they played no pre-Shawl songs.

I had seen the Prayer Chain two other times: 1995 in Birmingham and 2003 at Flevo Festival in the Netherlands. It is hard to compare because of the huge time gaps in between those, but this show was really special. As I was explaining to Andy Prickett after the show, this one was different because all the guys in the band were happy. Andy himself admitted that in 1995 they were "grumpy". Understandably so for any band touring in those conditions, but the Prayer Chain itself was full of tension at that point and they broke up just a few months later.

I have also had a great relationship with Prickett over the years. We first connected on the Northern Records message boards, which is by far the most involved in an online music community I have ever been. Northern launched their boards around the time the first Cush album was released in 2000, and then I became a pretty dedicated member there in 2002 or so. I think the boards lasted until 2005 or 2006, and I have continued to email with and engage on social media with many people I met on there.

That included RL, who I met for the first time Saturday night. He volunteered to work the Prayer Chain's merch table, and it was fun to connect in person for the first time after 16 years of digital communication. The Northern boards were unique in that everyone was kind, interesting, and the level of discussion, while obviously mostly about music, went to deeper levels. What also made them unique is how many musicians took part in the message board such as Andy and Eric and how much insight they shared about the Prayer Chain and Cush's music. I have been emailing with Andy Prickett now for 15 years, and we had good conversation at Flevo in 2003 and then this week in Nashville.

Back in the early 2000's I created a MySpace for Dakoda Motor Co. because they were not active. And MySpace was essential. ;) In 2007 when they reformed for shows and a few recordings (only one of which was released), I got in touch with bass player Derik Toy and turned the page over to him. He and I emailed off and on, and then we met in person for the first time Saturday night. I also talked to Dakoda Motor Co. members Chuck Cummings and Eliot Chenault. I was telling them how Dakoda Motor Co. was my first favorite band, and Eliot shared those sentiments. He talked about how surreal it was for him to join his favorite band after their first album. The next day I saw Eliot in the Nashville airport and we chatted again briefly.

The final example I'll share about relationship in music is how I have related to David Bazan over the last two decades. I began writing this post just before seeing Pedro the Lion play Tuesday night in Ferndale (near Detroit), and I am now finishing it a couple days later.

When I first began listening to Pedro the Lion in 1997, and then began seeing Bazan in concert in 1998, I connected to him on many levels. Not only did I enjoy his music, but we shared the same religious beliefs, and we were similar in many ways. When he began to question his faith, I didn't know what to make of it, and it led to me becoming less interested in his music (When Achilles Heel and Headphones were released, my connection to him was severed and was honestly put off by much of those albums).

I wrote about this in a lengthy blog post in 2015, but over the years I once again began to relate to him more. Not because we believed the same things, but because he is an honest, intelligent, transparent guy. And as someone who still follows Jesus, I also am disillusioned and sometimes angry with the Western Christian church. I also relate to him as a husband and father trying to support a family in this screwed up world.

On a musical level, while enjoying his more recent solo work, I only really listened to him over the last few years because I like him as a person, connect to his lyrics, and appreciate his perspective. I saw him play a solo show two years ago in Atlanta and found it enjoyable, but thought his best work was behind him.

But then on Tuesday night, the three-piece rock band Pedro the Lion rocked me to my core. As I shared on Twitter, it was the loudest show I have been to in a really long time, and was utterly stunned with how powerful the hour and a half performance was. The set was broken into three-song medleys in which the songs were thematically related and the sound never stopped (the songs overlapped or blended into one another). The best of these was when they played "Magazine," "Second Best," and "A Mind of Her Own" consecutively. I thankfully got that last song on video (below). While I without a doubt would still like Pedro the Lion with no backstory; having a "relationship" with Bazan for 20 years gave me a deep, spiritual connection to the show.

May 16, 2018


This post is a little delayed, but the circumstances are unique. I was in Detroit April 18-22 for a job interview. It was a fun time, but I hesitated to share the experience because there was a strong reality I would not get the job. However, I did get the job after all and am moving to Detroit in July!

There are lots of different angles to this trip, but for the purpose of this blog I will of course stick to music. It was a fun time to be in Detroit, and it was clear music is a huge part of the city.

To start, I picked out some songs to listen to in advance. The first has been one of my favorite songs for about 15 years, and a fun love song. Here is a live version from The Anniversary's reunion tour in 2016:

And then of course Sufjan Stevens has an entire album about the state of Michigan, including this song about the city of Detroit:

Sufjan definitely wrote that song when Detroit was near its worst, and thankfully it has come a long way in restoration since these lyrics:
Once a great place. Now a prison. 
All I can say. All I can do. 
People Mover: Bad Decision. 
From suburban. Now a prison. 
All I can say. All I can do. 

From the trembling walls. It’s a great idea! 
Everything you want. It’s a great idea! 

One of the first things I do when I visit a city is check concert listings. I was thrilled to discover Waxahatchee was playing at Saint Andrews Hall next to my hotel the night after my interview! Seeing Katie and Allison Crutchfield play for the first time could not have come at a better time. I shot this video:

I called 2017 "The year of the Crutchfield sisters", so to see them perform together was terrific. I wasn't sure if Allison always plays in Katie's band, so I was glad she was there to sing harmonies and play guitar and keys. I also took these photos:

Created with flickr slideshow.

I also happened to be present for Record Store Day in Detroit. Amazingly, I bought no records! It was fascinating to see the assortment of stores though, and visited a bunch: Rock City Records (didn't go inside, but drove past), Third Man Records (Jack White's place), People's Records, Hello Records, Primavera Sound, and Ripe Records Detroit (brand new, was actually grand opening). My first observation is that I didn't see a single RSD exclusive release for sale. I didn't get to any of the stores until after 3, so maybe they were all sold out, but I think a better observation is that most of these stores weren't even selling them.

These stores were 95% used records, which is cool, and shows just how important old Motown music still is. I do want to know where I would buy new indie records when I move there. I loved the inside of People's Records specifically:

Third Man Records was packed, and had a terrible, live in-store performance. The highlight of going there was the ability to see the vinyl pressing plant and machinery. But not being a Jack White fan, the selection was poor. Mostly the store sells shirts, mugs, etc. all with the Third Man logo. Definitely more a tourist place rather than a true record store:

Finally, I listened to satellite radio exclusively during my stay and had a few observations:
1. The sound quality was HORRIBLE. I learned later this could have had more to due with the crappy car stereo rather than satellite radio itself, but it sounded like 28kbps.

2. The playlists are incredibly repetitive. I listened to SiriusXMU and Lithium the most, and heard so many repeat songs! I wasn't even in the car that much. Probably should have spent more time on Pearl Jam radio; at least then I hear interesting live versions of songs I know. Overall I am reminded at why I have never enjoyed listening to the radio (thus the title of this blog).

3. One of the songs I heard multiple times stuck with me, and I was glad to finally discover who it was a couple weeks later and a few days ago:

The song "Mistake" is catchy, and the whole album is great. I would expect it to wind up in my top 10 of 2018.

May 15, 2018

The Loneliness and The Scream

Can you hear the road from this place?
Can you hear footsteps, voices?
Can you see the blood on my sleeve?
I have fallen in the forest, did you hear me?

In the loneliness
oh, the loneliness
and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist

In the loneliness
Oh, the loneliness
and the scream to bring
the blood to the front of my face again

Am I here? of course I am, yes
All I need is your hand to drag me out again
It wasn't me, I didn't dig this ditch
I was walking for weeks before I fell in

to the loneliness
Oh, the loneliness
and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist
in the loneliness
Oh, the loneliness
and the scream to fill a thousand black balloons with air

We fall down, find God just to lose it again
Glue the community together we were hammering it
I fell down, found love, I can lose it again
but now our communal heart beats miles from here

I am reeling from Scott Hutchinson's suicide last week. I have had countless thoughts and would love to write a full tribute of some kind, but at this point am unable to pull my ideas together. Instead I'll just share some of his words and songs that are significant to me.

First is "The Loneliness and the Scream". This song, along with much of his writing, openly expresses his depression and sadness. However, also like most of his songs, it ends in hope. The version embedded above I actually found today; the original version is on the album The Winter of Mixed Drinks.

The next song, which has long been my favorite Frightened Rabbit tune, is "Holy". Once again, I found a new, live version of the song I am embedding. The original recording is on my favorite Frightened Rabbit album Pedestrian Verse.

You read to me from the riot act
Way on high
Clutching a crisp new testament
Breathing fire
Spare me the fake benevolence
I don’t have time
I’m too far gone for a telling
I’ve lost my pride
I don’t mind being lonely
Leave me alone
You’re acting all holy
Me, I’m just full of holes
I could dip my head in the river
Cleanse my soul
I’d still have the stomach of a sinner
Face like an un-holy ghost
Spare me all the soliloquies
I’ve paid my fines
And I’ll be gone before my deliverance
So preach what you like
I don’t mind being lonely
Leave me alone
You’re acting all holy
Me, I’m just full of holes
Don’t mind being lonely
Spare me the brimstone
Acting all holy
When you know I’m full of holes
Don’t mind being lonely
Don’t need to be told
Stop acting so holy
I know I’m full of holes
I don’t mind being lonely
Leave me alone
You’re oh so holy
And I’ll never be good enough
Don’t care if I’m lonely
It feels like home
And I’ll never be holy
Thank God I’m full of holes

I am sad that Scott could not find peace during his time on earth; and I pray and hope that he is now at peace.

April 4, 2018

Three months in, women crushing music in 2018

It's really no surprise considering the last few years, and The New York Times nailed it with their 2017 story "Women are making the best rock music today". Through the first 100 days of 2018, women are absolutely crushing music.

I have been less connected over the last few months, taking a break from Twitter--my primary avenue for discovering music--and I haven't written on this blog since January. But I realized today I that thus far in 2018 I have really only listened to new music created by women.

Hop Along's Frances Quinlan
Then this week NPR is debuting three incredible new albums in full, one of which is definitively my #1 album of the year so far: Hop Along- Bark Your Head Off, Dog. The other two great albums on NPR's First Listen this week are from indie mainstay Wye Oak and newcomer The Aces. I recommend listening to all of those albums in full while they stream there for free.

I made a Playmoss playlist of my top 10 albums of 2018 thus far (some yet to be released), and all feature primary songwriters or co-writers who are women. It wasn't a reach, it is reality. (Once again, thanks to Playmoss for the ability to make playlists from Bandcamp, along with YouTube and Vimeo tracks.)

Hop Along has been the highlight of 2018 for me musically. Somehow I had never discovered their work until this year, despite their upcoming release on Friday is their 3rd full-length. Hop Along is fronted by singer-songwriter Frances Quinlan. Her lyrics are incredibly clever and I am continuing to explore and understand them on a daily basis. Stereogum published a detailed interview with Frances and her brother Mark, who drums in the band, last week.

Not only did I pre-order Bark Your Head Off, Dog on vinyl, I also purchased their first two albums, 2015's Painted Shut and 2012's Get Disowned, on cassette.

My favorite song from Painted Shut is "Waitress":

And my favorite song from Get Disowned is "Laments". "Laments" is actually my favorite song I have heard in the last three months, and have listened to it almost daily for weeks. I didn't understand the song at first, and it took a while before I finally grasped it's unique perspective.

January 22, 2018

New shirts for "old school" Tooth & Nail bands

Buy Velour 100, Havalina Rail Co., Bloodshed, and Ninety Pound Wuss shirts here!

Two years ago a bunch of people encouraged me to design some new shirts for 90's bands. Nostalgia is as "in" as ever, and I am constantly designing and ordering t-shirts for my athletic teams, so I am familiar with the process. The prospect was appealing because I would have more creative freedom and fun than with sports apparel.

My vision was simple: create NEW shirt designs with the permission from the musicians. This doesn't seem revolutionary, but most of the shirts for sale online are unofficial reprints. I have Facebook ads blocked in my browser, but the rare times I get on Facebook on my phone it is littered with ads for bootleg band t-shirts.

I reached out to about a dozen different musicians, and made progress with four: Jeff Bettger of Ninety Pound Wuss, Matt Wignall of Havalina Rail Co., Trey Many of Velour 100, and Jonathan Caro of Bloodshed. They all shared my vision of new designs rather than just reprinting the shirts they had in the 90's (which would probably even sell better).

Three of the four guys had strong opinions about the designs, which is logical because they are creative, visionary people. Matt Wignall went so far as to design the shirt himself (except I recreated the original Havalina logo). Jeff Bettger had a specific vision to honor John Spalding, who passed away in 2008; I executed his design idea with a photo he shared.

Trey Many wanted the art to represent the album Of Color Bright, which was challenging but eventually doable. With Bloodshed I had complete creative freedom, and ended up polling potential buyers and they chose this incredible image from the NYC public library (free use with no restrictions).

Well, as high as the interest seemed, only the Ninety Pound Wuss shirt sold (23 of them). I am using TeeSpring to sell the shirts for a variety of reasons, but partially because of its simplicity. And with TeeSpring I know the quality of the fabric and screen printing is GREAT (have used them to order shirts for my school where I work).

TeeSpring requires a minimum of 10 orders, and the other three all failed. Well, that was two years ago, and I decided to try again because every couple months I would get an email from someone wanting to order. So a couple days ago I relaunched the sales for the four bands:

Havalina Rail Co. (buy here)

Bloodshed (buy here)
Velour 100 (buy here)

Ninety Pound Wuss (buy here)

I want to make it clear that my profit on each shirt is in the pennies. Only one of the artists wanted a cut of the profits, so the price of that shirt is a little higher. But this is very much only for fun, and not a business.

There are some downsides that I am frustrated about; primarily shipping costs. For one, if you buy multiple shirts there is no shipping discount (well, there is if you buy multiple shirts with the same design. But if you want to combine two different design/bands there is nothing; argh!). And two, I based the store in the USA because that is where most of the potential buyers are. The international shipping costs are ridiculous. I apologize about this, but it the downside of using TeeSpring. I do feel the pros outweigh the cons though, and even with the too-high shipping costs most of the shirts are under $20 total.

Finally, we need at least 10 buyers for shirt! And we are off to a solid start. The Ninety Pound Wuss shirt has 9 orders so far, and TeeSpring actually changed the goal from 10 (the typical minimum) to 6. I am not sure why, but it may have to do with the fact that the shirt has sold well before. I am hoping the other shirts will also have a reduced minimum. But surely we can find 10 buyers for each shirt below?

January 19, 2018

It Takes Years To Get Here; The Prayer Chain's Top 25 songs

Considering how long I have been blogging (this is year 15), it is surprising how little I have written about The Prayer Chain. They are one of my favorite bands of all time, but they broke up at the end of 1995.

The most thorough post I have done on the band is about the 20th Anniversary of Mercury and the alter-ego Cush, which last released an EP around that same time. And then I wrote quite a bit about the band in my best of 1995 post, which of course included the release of Mercury, but also me seeing them perform in Birmingham and working their merch table (footage of the show at the Crush Warehouse is incredibly online, and I show up in the video a few times at the end.)

They did play the occasional show from 1996-2003, but have been inactive since. Well, mostly. Three-quarters of the band (Tim, Andy, Eric, but no Wayne) did perform as Cush and play two Prayer Chain songs in 2015. Here is the title track from Mercury, and they also played "Chalk":

Anyway, "it takes years to get here." 2018 brings the first true Prayer Chain concerts with all four members since 2003. I actually think I was at the last real Prayer Chain show, which was in August 2003 at Flevo Festival in the Netherlands (great video of that show here).

The 25th Anniversary of Shawl has thankfully been embraced by the band with a Kickstarter to release the album on vinyl for the first time, and for two shows in California and Tennessee. They have already reached the first "stretch goal" of $27K to add the Nashville snow, and the next stretch goal of $30K is to ensure the shows are recorded professionally and released. Support that now if you would like to own Shawl (and Mercury) on vinyl and/or see one of these shows:

With the Kickstarter and the active social media presence of the band, I have been listening to The Prayer Chain a ton over the first few weeks of 2018. Mercury is by far my favorite thing the band ever created, and I listen to it frequently. However, I don't think I had listened to Shawl or any of the other releases straight through for maybe a decade.

But as I re-listened to everything, I decided to add The Prayer Chain to my growing lists of artists I have written top 25 song posts about (here is a list). The other added inspiration to make a list was my discovery of PlayMoss, which I wrote about yesterday. I love Bandcamp, all of The Prayer Chain's discography is on Bandcamp (except Shawl, but hopefully it will be added), and PlayMoss makes Bandcamp playlists (!).

Another feature of PlayMoss is that you can make playlists that include songs from a variety of sources, including YouTube. YouTube was clearly the next best option for including the missing Shawl songs, as there are many fun live performances on YouTube.

Because The Prayer Chain only released two LPs, the majority of their best tracks are from them of course (the first 12 songs below are from either Mercury or Shawl.) Honestly I had a hard time not including all 10 songs from Mercury. But there are still some fascinating and great other Prayer Chain songs out there, either outtakes from Humb/Mercury or older standout tracks and demos.

Here are my top 25 Prayer Chain songs in the order I prefer them. What did I leave out? I already know the band will say "Grin", which was a song they performed in most of their shows, but one I never enjoyed that much. It is much better live though, and if you need to hear it, this is a great live "Grin" recording.

As I outlined in my last post, PlayMoss is new to me, and this is only my second playlist using the service. And it is the first using a combination of Bandcamp and YouTube sources. Feedback on functionality or problems is appreciated.

January 18, 2018

Playmoss and Bandcamp Playlists

I am a Bandcamp apologist; for years I have been promoting the site as by far the best way to buy music in this streaming age. I have criticized Spotify at length, and will continue to boycott it and encourage others to do the same. If you are new to this debate: simply, Spotify pays musicians practically nothing, but with Bandcamp the artists get paid by far the most of any other digital platform.

My primary--and really only--gripe with Bandcamp is the inability to make and share playlists. Playlists are one of the primary reasons people pay money to Spotify (and ignore the fact that the subscription fees they are paying go to a corporation and not to artists).

That brings me to PlayMoss- one can make Bandcamp playlists! Not only Bandcamp, but also YouTube, SoundCloud and just about all other streaming services. And you can mix and match. The service can be free, but the free playlists are only a maximum of 15 songs. But for less than 2 $/€ per month, you can pay for an upgrade that enables unlimited length of playlists and unlimited sharing/embedding. I paid the fee immediately to support these programmers who have created something I have desired for years. (Apparently Playmoss has been around for a couple years but sadly I never noticed.)

I will be using PlayMoss extensively on this blog moving forward (assuming it works as well as it initially appears). I will attempt to stick to Bandcamp tracks, as there are direct links to purchase the songs, and at times limits to how many times a user can stream a track (this would be the biggest and most important upgrade to Spotify and other streaming services; to require purchase of a song or albums after playing it a few times). If the song is not available on Bandcamp, I'll then use YouTube. (Because even without a subscription, artists they get paid a higher amount per play on YouTube than Spotify.)

Final comment before my first PlayMoss/Bandcamp playlist: Bandcamp would be wise to go ahead and buy Playmoss, or incorporate the same feature into their own website. Bandcamp has been around long enough that they have the resources to add a playlist function, and in my opinion would lead to even more money for the artists, and for Bandcamp itself.

My first playlist is my top 25 songs of 2017, but only those that are available on Bandcamp. This list is similar to my top 25 albums of 2017 blog post, but with a few additions to replace the albums that are not on Bandcamp.

Because this is new, I would love feedback. Specifically, I am curious if all the songs play, if any skip ahead, etc.

January 9, 2018

Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps, last year and it came in at my #8 album of 2017. However, I have listened to that album more than anything over the last month. Yesterday I went down a rabbit hole of musical discovery in an attempt to find other Phoebe Bridgers' songs that aren't on the LP.

(As usual, this post will be rather short and focused on the songs. But if you are looking for some Bridgers long-reads I recommend these essays/interviews from Gold Flake Paint and Bandcamp Daily.)

The rabbit hole is far deeper than I imagined. Bridgers, now 23, has been writing and performing for much of her life and in her own words began writing real songs at age 16. There are countless songs and videos of her performances online. Below is a list of the songs that have been recorded professionally, and can be purchased online.

To start of course is Stranger in the Alps, Bridgers only full-length. Her voice has matured since earlier recordings and I find a radical difference and improvement than how she sings in the old songs and videos. She describes the process in the Gold Flake Paint interview: "...Tony [Berg] the producer would turn off all the lights to make me emote more, so I recorded most of the songs in complete darkness, as far as the vocals.” That process worked perfectly and her voice is strong yet simultaneously fragile, and vulnerability is communicated not just through the lyrics but her actual voice.

Her first official release is the 2015 Killer 7", which can be purchased from Ryan Adam's label's webstore or as a digital EP from Amazon. It contains earlier versions of the songs "Georgia" and "Killer"(the newer, LP versions are far superior) but also an otherwise unreleased song, "Steamroller".

Another older song, "Waiting Room", is a free download from the 2015 Lost Ark Studio Compilation:

The final song available on Bandcamp is her 2017 Christmas tune, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".

The only other remaining song I own of Bridgers is a cover of the Emmylou Harris song "Prayer in Open D". It is available on the 2016 To Emmylou covers album.

Here is a fun YouTube playlist someone put together that showcases some more rare and older Bridgers' tunes, covers, etc., including one as far back as 2011.

And finally, I'll end with her NPR Tiny Desk concert, which is phenomenal: