Open Doors

I spent most of my childhood at my grandparent’s house in eastern Pennsylvania. It was my adventure-world; my friends all lived extremely close, we had a big yard to play baseball/football/soccer in and acres upon acres of State Game Lands to explore. Our imaginations ran wild, playing GI Joe, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars, all in the same day. Their house was three stories tall with a basement; Pop built it when he returned from the Pacific and my dad and uncle grew up there like years later I would. Inside, the basement held epic Transformer v GI Joe battles, the living and dining rooms would be Construx and Lego building zones, and upstairs would be for reading and daydreaming. The third story though, that was some place different….

The attic had a door in my Grandparent’s bedroom, it was taller than any other door I had seen before and there was usually stuff in front of it. All of that to me meant: MONSTERS. There was some sort of unknown creature living up there, probably plotting an elaborate scheme to take me in my sleep, maybe roast me over a fire and eat me or maybe make me work some crazy Monster Mining Camp (I had a pretty detailed imagination). I was so scared to even walk by the door, I’d hear the creature howling on some days (especially when it was really windy outside) and it seemed like it was always 10 degrees colder standing by it. The attic and it’s demon, don’t walk, RUN past it as fast as you can.

One summer day, Pop had the worst proposition of all time: Help me grab a few things from inside the Gates of Hell (attic) and we’ll go get ice cream after. WHAT?!? WHY TOY WITH ME AND MY LOVE OF ICE CREAM THIS WAY?!? After brief hesitation, my want of chocolate and peanut butter overcame my fear of the giant door and I went up with him. And my world turned upside down.

There were paintings and clothes and books and photographs and treasure chests!!! Why had no one told me about this?!? It was brand new adventures with things from the past!! Stories I never knew, some Pop told me, some just came to me as I started playing with things. Whenever I would get bored, I now had a new place to explore! Thank you Pop, this is the gift that keeps on giving!!

Lets jump ahead 30 years. I’ve been working hard at making albums with my friends, getting to travel to places I thought I’d never see, spreading my love of music with everyone I could. It’s been the most amazing adventure I could ever imagine, but off in the corner has always been this giant door. Creepy noises come from it and I run past it any time I’m close. My own personal Large-Attic-Monster-Door.

Two months ago, out of the ashes of another musical endeavor, Dave Percefull and I came to the realization that maybe it was time to do something that was deep inside of us. Coincidently, my old roommate/singer-songwriter Phil Marshall was moving back to the area, and Dave and Phil used to play together with one of our main session drummers, Josh Center. It seemed like it was time to open up that attic door and face the monster.

Saints Analogue. That’s what I found up there. Three of my closest musical compadres and I writing and recording the songs that come to us. We wanted to make recordings that were what we could pull off live, be the band that you’re hearing on the records. We’re excited, we’re pissed off, we want to play. Two months. In two months we sat down, wrote 6 songs, recorded, mixed and mastered them, released it online (Ace), started putting vinyl together, wrote 6 more, finished recording them this past weekend, started rehearsing and booking shows, about to go into mixing and mastering of these six (Two) for a December release, starting full shows in January, and hitting the studio again in February (we’ve already started writing “Three”). We’ve got a lot to say. And we’re not doing this alone, Jon at Austin Signal is our outlet for vinyl (and cassettes), Raquel at Merch Gal designed our Spade and is doing all our merch, and Coby at 4190 Design is starting to join us in artwork.

We’ve opened that attic door. Come on inside. It’s loud in here.

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Which way from here?

Loneliness is the ally of conformity.  The fear of an empty bed is greater than the fear of an empty soul.  At some point we were taught that it is better to hold on to a hand than to a principle.  Why do we give up on our own drive across the world just to be bussed around our hometown?

I was always the nice guy.  I got along with everyone.  Early on I was mocked at school for being “over-weight-ed” and at home for being “a reader,” so becoming personable seemed to be the only way to get kids (and parents) off my back.  I was the class clown to get the right attention from my peers and the straight-a student for the faculty.  When I finally would get home, I would go straight to my room and put on headphones.  My father’s bass guitar and step-mom’s keyboard were my solace; my cassette collection was my armor.  I was safe until the next time life’s threshold had to be crossed.

7th grade was my first major crossroad.  I was asked to step out from the rest of the class and be in the Senior Musical.  Dare I be different than the rest?  Attend a new set of classes, be the Junior High kid hanging with High Schoolers?  Disregard the devil I know?  If I’m already alone in a crowd, why not be lonely doing what I love?

From U. B. Eddy to Jersey to Texas I kept that mentality.  Loneliness crept in from time to time, but I stuck with what was the only thing that made sense: creating art.  I was mocked by friends, slammed by coaches, laughed at by adults; but you can’t build a fire without kindling.  Then…..

BAM!!!  When you least expect it, you find a home.  Like-minded people.  Music College became my family.  We had different backgrounds but the same story.  Lonely over conformity.  We created, we graduated, we moved, we created.  Love and anger, pride and fear, humor out of pain, pain out of growth.  We kept finding those like-minded people and we kept burning and churning out as much as we could stay awake.

And before we knew it, creativity became commerce.

And as always, commerce became conformity.

So here we are at the crossroads once more.  Do you have the guts to feed that desire again?  It’s the Devil You Need or the Devil You Know. I would rather get lost on a back road than know every pot-hole in my hometown.

Loneliness is the ally of conformity.  Conformity is the path to lifelessness.

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Fear (period)

some mornings start with fear.  i wake anxious.  heart pounds.  out of breath.  looking around.  did i miss the alarm?  where am i today?  what am i supposed to be doing?  there’s no difficulty in finding fear.  some of our worst decisions are based on it.  the difficulty lies in finding it’s root.  where is it growing from?

i know where mine is planted.  it’s not being late or making mistakes.  it’s my fear of not living.  and no, i do not mean death. i mean taking in every moment.  leaving this place better than i found it.  learning from as many people as i can.  trying to leave a mark.

some mornings there’s a voice.  it’s reminding me of my past.  the mistakes, the bad decisions, the pain.

the pain.

the pain.

for a brief moment i’m petrified.  i have to stop and take a deep breath.  then i grab my shovel and start digging.  pull up these roots.  i dig as deep as i can.  as fast as i can.  i’m not letting these roots drag me down.  i have too many songs in my head.  too many words to be written.  too many hugs i need to give.  too many smiles i need to see.  too many meals i need to eat.  too much love inside of me.

these roots will always grow back, and they will be tougher to pull next time.  but i will not let my life be defined by my fears, rather, define me by how i handle my fears.

reflection in your waking moments should arouse desire.

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Making a Record

People ask me all the time what it’s like making a record. And after countless hours of searching high and low for analogies, I think I’ve finally stumbled on the best one.

Making a record is like building a car. The artist is the designer. It’s THEIR car. They’ve spent many months/years working up the ideas, putting it all together, until they’ve reached a point where they were ready to build it. The producer is the Head Engineer. It’s his job to take the ideas of the artist and pan them out, expand on them, make it into a product that is feasible, but still stays true to the artist’s intentions. The engineer is Mechanical Engineer, it’s his job to take the ideas of the producer and artist and make it into a real working product.

Once the ideas are in place, it’s time to build. You hit rehearsal halls, you make demos, you hit the studio. You put things together, you take it apart, you try things, you fail, you succeed, until ultimately, the car is built. Then comes the next step:

Mixing. It’s the most important thing in making a record. You have a great car, but now you have to grind and buff the edges, paint it, choose the interior. You going leather, you going vinyl? How about the cd changer? IPod ready? No matter how well built the car is, it’s not going to be bought if it’s just a giant pile of sheet metal. I’m not saying every car has to be polished and spit shined (give me a 49 Ford Coupe with a coat of flat black and no gloss any day), but every one still needs to be presentable.

Last but not least is the Mastering phase. Mastering is the coat of gloss. How shiny do you want it? You want a long lasting coat? It’s the final step before it’s time for manufacturing. When all stages are done correctly, you can’t beat that feeling. Sure, there are plenty of other cars out there, but now you have something that you’re proud of, something you want to sell, something that is competitive on the highway.

But for some reason we’ve forgotten that. We’ve lost that drive. We’ve lost that pride. Most artists would rather have a mediocre record that they must constantly apologize for than to have a something they want to promote for the rest of their lives. The trend has now gone to spending all the budget on Mastering rather than mixing. I haven’t figured this one out.

Why put a high gloss coat on an unpolished, unpainted car? It just doesn’t make sense.

Be proud of what you do! When we’re too old to go out and play our music live, our records will still live on! It’s our immortality! Quit making excuses. Make good records.

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Mortality breeds contempt for life.  We know we all have a short time in this existence, and we all deal with it in strange and unusual ways.  I, like most of my friends, deal with it in the artistic way:  we strive for immortality in stories.  And out of those stories, we really just hope for one thing:

To know we are not alone.

Last night was a changed night.  Last night a different band took 9:15 pm slot at the LJT Music Festival.  As Meagan tied our ties we just looked at each other, jokes and pokes, trying to lighten the mood.  But our eyes were all saying the same thing.  “Don’t be afraid, you’re not alone.”

As we waited behind monitor world for the announcer to kick it off, everyone commiserated.  Bands I hadn’t seen in a long time, friends that I had just seen at Rich’s funeral.  We told quick stories, hugged each other a little longer, and made sure our eye contact said the things we couldn’t express in words.  Then Jay kicked into “Castanets.”

We opened with one of our closers.  The games are over.  The gloves are off.  We’re at war.  A war with monotony.  With dullness.  With wasted time.  And in a glance we committed to each other that this was a war we would win, every time we took a stage from now on.

It wasn’t a blur.  I remember every detail, every thought, every face for those 60 minutes.  I felt each note.  I stomped with all my might.  I counted each tear.  I remember looking into the eyes of Meagan, Manny, Beans, Neil, Thumbs, M-Knight, Muzzie, Brett, Moderas, and countless others.  Cody and I back-to-back.  Willy and I shoulder-to-shoulder.  Dave and I head-to-head.  Blood from bashing Jay’s cymbals with my hands.  The wall of sound flooding over me.  The flood of emotion cleansing me.

It was for Gus.  It was for Rich.  It was for us.

Mortality breeds contempt for life.  We each have a choice, embrace the disdain or live a life of passion.  The choice is never easy, especially with weeks like this past one.  But what I hope everyone sees and what I hope we all show each other with a song, a hug, a smile:

None of us are alone.

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Thunder Road-Bruce Springsteen.

the other day Galleywinter approached me about my favorite Springsteen song.  i did not even hesitate, “Thunder Road” is beyond my favorite.  it is a story that in some twisted way i had lived.

my Mary was blonde;  not petite, curvy and gorgeous.  from the day we met we spent every free moment together.  she understood, she listened, she sang, she comforted, she was honest.  she came to me with no judgement and i gave her all the pieces of my soul.

a year had passed and before we knew, the time had come to take the long walk.  i wasn’t choosing “the road less travelled,” i was flat-out paving my own way.  turning my back on the “promises” and finding my own future.  giving away everyone else’s certainty for my own clarity.  and i wasn’t alone.  my Mary climbed in….

It’s a town full of losers, and we’re pulling out of here to win.

16 years later.  we’re still on the road.

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i’m an artist.

i’ve come under a certain amount of scrutiny in the past two days.  i’ve started doing some follow-up research on this whole “Gibson Guitar Scandal.”  it is each and every person’s choice to decide whether to listen to the sensationalized headlines or to see what’s really going on.  myself and others (lawyers, musicians, business men) are looking into what’s actually happening.  you can ask me and i will answer, but i will not force it on you.

i’m a musician.  i’m a producer.  i make mostly independent albums.  i’m fighting for good music to prevail over corporate mediocracy.  we’ve already come to a turning point where music corporations are grasping at straws to keep their old business models alive.  the internet is evening the playing field and the choice is back into the hands of the fan.

now the government is getting involved.

chastise me all you want.  i’m still going to fight for musician’s rights.  and i’m still going to fight for the companies that make instruments.  most musicians do not have health insurance.  most do not know when their next paycheck is coming. and now our government is beginning to enact laws that will allow them to literally take an instrument out of our hands.  your grandfather’s Martin acoustic?  gone.  BB King’s Lucille?  confiscated.

i will not sit idly by.

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