I have met the enemy, and it is creating an album. Don’t get me wrong, this is what I do and it’s practically a compulsory behavior, but sometimes it is far more involved than that. Sometimes, it’s the creative equivalent of childbirth as I understand it – hard as Hell and painful (drugs optional!), but completely worth it.
Listen to the album while reading the text.
Setting the Tone
A couple months after releasing my first album under my own name (Confidence), I had started considering a follow-up. Very early in the process, a couple things happened that had a profound effect on me. The first was the many events that spread like wildfire in Ferguson and elsewhere in the US, and the second was the passing of my hero David Bowie. I wanted so badly to write, make sense of what was happening in the world, and I wanted to create something in a way that reflected the adventurous spirit of my musical father.
I decided quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to write about Ferguson – not because I didn’t have a strong opinion of it, but because the voice of a middle-aged white man not what needed to be heard. My opinion was far less important than the people this directly impacted, and their advocates with boots on the ground. Their voices needed (and still need) amplification and those stories need to be heard. Also, writing politically doesn’t come naturally to me – everything I wrote came off too preachy.
Writing Songs, Changing Faces
But I had a great band, and songwriting comes fairly easily for me, so I was really looking forward to what lay ahead.
The first song I wrote specifically for TRIALS was the opener, “Motivational”. Then along came the defeatist anthem “I Give Up Everyday, But I Never Manage To Walk Away”. That was November of 2016. “Umbrage” came soon thereafter. Both were passionate songs and wrote themselves.
The drummer, Dik Ledoux, moved away in Fall 2016 to be closer to his family – who can begrudge somebody for that? I moved forward sad but undeterred. When it came time to play out again (early 2017) I was pointed in the direction of another drummer by my longtime keyboardist Jason Pulley – Josh Stevens is a great, hard hitter who plays in a number of bands and fronts his own, Glorious Abhor. We met up and clicked and got the band together at his house to play – awesome stuff. I started introducing new songs for us to hash out in anticipation of recording later in the year. We played some shows – things were looking good.
By the summer of 2017 I was saying farewell (for now) to Jason and also my guitar-playing best friend, Matthew Trisler. Both were ready to dive into their own projects and I couldn’t be more excited for them. We played our last gig in May … onward and upward.
I lost my job, and got together with my old friend J.D. Reager and since I had a LOT of time, we started recording what became TRIALS. I had brought “Over and Over”, “Tabula Rasa” and “Let Me Be Right” back from the (mostly) dead, and we nailed “Motivational” and “Umbrage” with ease. Getting together with the band to track had been dificult, but J.D. and I had a lot of fun getting together and working on each other’s albums. Josh and I put together “And Rainy Days” that summer (with help from my current musical conspirator Kathryn Brawley Suda) and a version of that made it onto the newest Makeshift compilation.
On the band side, I recruited Family Ghost guitarist Jacques Granger, and got a gig with John Davis from Folk Implosion. Things came up with Jacques and he had a lot on his lap, so we amicably parted ways (again, for now … I never rule out getting to play with someone as long as the graces are good). Unfortunately, the wind had left our rock and roll sails and after some frustrating-for-all practices and scheduling foibles, I put the band on ice.
The holidays were looming and I like to take those couple months off to do family things. In my downtime, I had picked up the pace on recording the album. Out of necessity, I ended up recording the rhythms by sequencing and it colored how the songs were coming out. It sounded right. Unfortunately, I was having a lot of trouble with my voice and it was challenging to get the vocals right.
Our Feature Presentation
Finishing the album came together in January and February – I picked up a contributor in Robert Poss from the legendary NYC noise rock outfit Band of Susans, and his parts sounded great. I got my voice back and finished the vocals, I even got a couple things tracked with the rhythm section from the band. I got everything mixed, mastered, and sent off to the duplicators which was a great feeling. All that was left was some initial press and a release show. Easy, right?
Wrong. The first venue had licensing and alcohol problems and we couldn’t have a public show there. They needed $200 for the space . That’s not a lot of money unless you don’t have any. Alyssa Moore from Move the Air stepped up like the badass she is and gave us a place to put on the show. Assembling a band wasn’t hard – Jason came back for the show, Josh and Eric were on board immediately, Kathryn offered to sing backups, and Justice Naczycz from The Secret Service came on board to relieve me of guitar duties. Scheduling practices, however, was incredibly difficult and I think we only got three in – three practices to nail an entire album with people who’d never played the material! They’re all great players, so we got it together in the 11th hour and had a great release show.
Unleashed? Released? Whatever …
Friday, April 13th, 2018 finally rolled around. I took copies around to the local shops that morning, and did a great interview with RadioMemphis.com. I felt the burden of birthing this thing begin to lift (which would lift completely that Saturday night after the show).
The Memphis Flyer did a glowing review of TRIALS – unfortunately, the review copies got lost in the shuffle and the piece did not come along in time to promote the April 14th release show. I can’t complain, though, the review is great. The album is great. I’m really proud of it.
That’s the tedious to read, tedious to write story of how TRIALS came to be. It was a mess, but it’s my mess. I hope you’ll listen to it and find some joy in what you hear.