I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since we made ‘Poseidon and the Bitter Bug’. Matt Chamberlain, our drummer for ‘Poseidon…’ only had four days available (he is one of the most in-demand drummers in the world), so we cut 10 band songs in four days. I found the pace to be exhilarating and the decision making process to be unencumbered by the luxury of time. We had to go with our gut on performances. Sometimes in the studio, the more you belabor things, the less energized they become. So I really feel that the particular pace of making this record was helped by our limited budget and schedule. Working with Mitchell Froom is a fantastic experience, and he played all over this record (thankfully!) and elevated the songs to a new level.
I began the year with horrific writer’s block. I actually had to ask Amy and Russell (our manager) to postpone making the cd so that I could write some songs! I always get a bit of writer’s block and trust that songs will come, but this particular block felt debilitating. When the songs finally came, they emerged deeply personal and colored by all the angst of midlife ponderings: why is everyone breaking up? Why is George Bush our president? Why are we at war with Iraq? What have I done with my life? You know, just the basics. The first song I wrote was ‘I’ll Change’ which I was immediately happy with, but I always benefit from the opinion of my friends and cohorts. When Russell first heard it and liked it, I felt validated and encouraged to go on. So, I went to the beach and shut myself in a room and pounded away at songwriting. It’s certainly the reason for the nautical references in some of the songs, particularly ‘Fleet of Hope’ and ‘Love of Our Lives’. I forget that I actually had an extra song written that I decided we shouldn’t learn, but I played it the other day and kind of liked it. Maybe a bonus track sometime? It’s called ‘The History of the World’ and is based on a guy I met on an airplane who had fabulous stories to tell about the inner workings of D.C.
When Amy and I started learning the songs together, we got Mitchell in on the loop and he ended up coming to Atlanta early to tighten up the arrangements. He is a genius arranger. For those of you who are writers, it’s akin to having a really good editor. I remember when I wrote the book with my Dad how amazed I was at what our editor, Dorothy Bass, could do with passages and arrangements that needed serious tweaking.
So, Mitchell is a master song tweaker. It’s surprising how much of a difference one chord change can make in a song.
One of the highlights of making the cd was having Alison Brown in to play. She played a solo on the acoustic version of “I’ll Change” that is heartbreakingly beautiful. I play it over and over again. She also played on Amy’s “Salty South’ (acoustic record). Also great to have Missy Higgins come and sing on “Digging for Your Dream’ and a version of “True Romantic’. Mitchell produced her latest record, and she was in town for a concert, so we roped her in. We also ended up doing a bunch of dates with her during the 2008 touring season. “Where I Stood’ is one of my favorite songs of the year. It’s always inspiring to come across young artists who are tearing it up. Brandi Carlile reigns supreme in this arena.
So, here we are, all independent again. I love it. The cd comes out March 24th, and I shake my head in disbelief at this remarkable path that Amy and I have traveled over all of these years. I get a little more tired now from traveling than I used to, but I still love the music experience fiercely. And, speaking of music experience, we just came off the Cayamo cruise and had a blast, playing and mingling with all sorts of musicians: Brandi, Kathleen Edwards, Shawn Mullins, David Ryan Harris, Mindy Smith, Vienna Tang. Also caught a show by Shawn Colvin. We look forward to playing this cruise again. Once I got over my sea sickness, every memory was a fond one.
I spent a month in southeast Asia in January. I traveled to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The presence of the history of war was around every corner, but I never once sensed any antagonism over the fact that I was American. The war history museums are hard to take, as was the “Hanoi Hilton’ prison that still houses John McCain’s flight suit. I read a book about the Pol Pot regime that almost did me in. But I yearn to go back to that part of the world as soon as I can. Singapore is next!
I had a chance to catch up on some movies, notably ‘The Wrestler’, ‘Milk’, ‘The Reader’, and “Slumdog Millionaire’ which was, by far, my favorite. Sean Penn was stunning in ‘Milk’ and I was definitely pulling for Kate Winslet, even though I hadn’t had a chance to see ‘Doubt’ and Meryl Streep blows my mind. It’s been nice to have a slew of good movies to see.
I read a wonderful book, ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’. Absolutely fantastic. I am currently on a Philip Roth kick. Dark, dark, dark.
The year ahead holds many adventures. We are coming to a town near you and, for your support and listening ear, I am sincerely grateful. We’ve got a new president!!!!! Let’s make it a productive year of positive change, for us and for the whole world.