As I look back on this year, one of the things I’m proudest of is the new album I released this past May.  After the songs were written, I had a dream team of musicians I wanted to feature on this album, and to my surprise they were all able to find time in their busy schedules to help make this album everything I wanted it to be.  (Almost all – Ben Folds never responded to my emails).  So I wanted to share with you a little about these people I am so proud to have worked with.

(If you bought the physical CD version of “Philip”, you can find these credits in the booklet!)

KRISTOPHER KEUNING.  To say Kris is the “drummer” on the album wouldn’t do him justice.  He has always been extremely dedicated to helping me fine-tune my songwriting and sound.  Months before we got in the studio, while still in the songwriting process, I kept giving Kris rough drafts of songs on CD-Rs and he kept giving me feedback which helped me immensely in deciding which songs to record and how to record them.  That said, Kris’ drumming on this album is superb.  As these songs were recorded live, Kris’ percussion kept the tempo consistent and accurate, while still allowing for expression and feeling.  During a 10 hour recording session, all I remember him eating was a bag of Doritos.  Definitely couldn’t have done this without him.

BRANDON MINNIS.  I met Brandon through Kris a few years back, and as we played more gigs together, it became clear to me that Brandon’s bass playing was going to be a must on this record.  What I didn’t know originally is that he could sing too, and you can hear his vocals featured on “Home of the Brave” and “Keep Up the Fight”.  As mentioned above in regard to Kris’ drumming, Brandon’s bass playing was all done live in studio, with no splicing of bass parts, and it is perfect.  Recently Brandon’s career led him to a move to Ohio, but I’m extremely thankful for the time he spent in the Quad Cities and that I was able to have him play bass on the album.

PAT STOLLEY.  Pat is a sound engineer who owns FutureAppleTree studio in Rock Island, IL.  He specializes in analogue recording and, has a very long list of incredible recordings under his belt. Having Pat record my album to tape seemed unattainable – I didn’t think he had time, and if he did I thought it would be too expensive.  However, after sitting down with him, he explained to me that he had time, his rates were reasonable, and he was very interested in working with me to find a sound we could both be really proud of.

The chilly morning of February 13th, 2017, Kris, Brandon and I met Pat at the studio and he worked tirelessly, finding the right mic, getting the right mix, constantly back and forth from the mixing room to the studio, to help us record 8 songs in one day.

MATT VAN.  Matt Van is a singer-songwriter and producer who I met playing open mic around the Quad Cities.  Matt mastered every song on “Philip” and despite never having worked with an analogue recording before, hit the perfect balance between achieving loudness and sensitivity to tone and texture.  In the past few months several other sound engineers have been impressed with the mastering and asked me, “Who mastered that album?”  Matt Van.

CALLEN BROWN.  Callen’s beautiful trumpet playing on “Be in the Time” expresses this song just as much as the lyrics.  Callen is currently studying Music Education at WIU, works, does theater, and is just extremely busy, so I was extremely honored she made time to grace this song with her oh-so-smooth tone.

LEAH SPROTT.  Leah is my sister, and a songwriter, among many other talents and roles.  I’ve always been impressed by her effortless way of writing a catchy song with relate-able words.  Leah and I have that thing where your voices blend together cause you’re related.  So getting Leah’s voice on this album was a must.  She sings on “Music is the Only Drug I Need” and “Keep Up the Fight” and her voice is just the right thing.

STEPHANIE SEWARD.  Stephanie has recently graduated with her masters degree in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, and has dedicated herself to helping people and making the world a more loving place for everyone.  Stephanie generously made time to get in the studio and add her beautiful melodies and harmonies to “Keep Up the Fight” and “Heaven on Earth”.  Working with her was a delight.

MIRACLE LEACH.  Miracle is a 25-year-old gospel singer/songwriter from Joliet, IL  When I first met Miracle at a gig, a mutual friend invited her up to the stage to sing.  She was a bit shy and maybe a little embarrassed at the impromptu invitation, so when she started singing, I was shocked at the power, expression, and amazing tone of her voice.  From then on she stayed in my mind as a person I wanted to sing on the album, and you can hear her on “Heaven on Earth” and “Keep Up the Fight”.

FAITH HARDACRE.  I met Faith playing open mic in the Quad Cities, and we have played several concerts together.  She has a unique talent at understanding how to vocally interpret a song.  Her ability to harmonize on the fly is impressive.  She sings on “Heaven on Earth”, “Keep Up the Fight”, and “Music is the Only Drug I Need”

AMMON PAQUETTE.  Ammon is an acoustic musician who has recently moved from the Quad Cities, so I’m especially thankful he stayed around long enough to record those warm violin tones on “Slow Lane” and “Color and Warmth”.

JOSH FORBES.  I’ve been gigging with Josh for a while now and he’s become a great friend in addition to being a great sax player.  We wanted to go for a bit of a LeRoi Moore sax sound on “Home is Where” and Josh nailed it.

CHRISTOPHER BELL.  I knew I wanted cello on “Jesus & Mary” and I knew I wanted Chris Bell to record it.  Without his cello, the emotion of this song isn’t the same.  Chris is a songwriter and engineer who currently lives in Nashville, TN.

 

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There are some people who enjoy music so much, you can see it right on their face.  One of those people is Ed Millett.  He spends his weekdays at In Touch Adult Daycare in Moline, and every time I perform there, Ed shows up early for the music, and doesn’t leave til the last song is done.  When I finish playing, he comes up to me, shakes my hand, and tells me how much he enjoyed the music.  I play at In Touch, regularly, and after a few performances, I found out Ed was a songwriter.  Eventually he gave me the music to one of the songs he had written and asked if I could play it sometime at In Touch.  I’m woefully bad at reading music, but I figured it out and this past February, I performed Ed’s song, “I Wanna Love”.  Ed wrote the tune for his wife and the timing was perfect because I ended up playing it right around Valentines Day.

Ed has a recording of himself singing “I Wanna Love” but it was done a long time ago and the recording quality is low.  He asked if I could do a recording of it, so I recorded “I Wanna Love”, burned it to a CD, and gave it to Ed.  I also uploaded the song to my bandcamp site, so go ahead and enjoy a song by another Quad Cities songwriter!

I clearly remember how, as a kid, I would listen to the radio for songs like “Uptight”, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” and “Stop In The Name of Love”.  These songs had a certain sound, but since I just heard them on the radio, for a long time I just chalked it up to being “60s music”.  Later I learned more about Motown Records, with it’s definitive sound, and today Alexey and I went and took a tour of this historic studio.

I wasn’t even familiar with who Berry Gordy was before today.  I was so impressed at how hard hemotown worked to bring his vision for music to a reality in founding Motown Records.  The museum highlights how he borrowed $800 to purchase the original house ($400) and music equipment ($400), converted the garage into the now famous studio A, and how this $800 investment became ground zero for some of the best recordings in music history, not to mention a thriving $20 million enterprise.

Gordy’s original goal for the music he produced was for it to “have a good story, a good beat, and to be something everyone can enjoy.”

Berry Gordy worked with many singers who had a ton of natural talent, but he hired an in-house music theory teacher to give each Motown musician a well-rounded understanding of music.  He also hired a woman to groom the musicians in formal attire and etiquette, anticipating that many of these musicians would soon rise to fame and rub shoulders with royalty and aristocracy on an international level, which they, of course, eventually did.

In the upstairs of the building is where Gordy and his family lived.  The museum shows a kitchen table stacked with cups, food, and stacks of records.  There was no distribution deal for Motown in those days, so all the records were packaged and shipped right on site.  The tour guide pointed out how musicians on the Motown label were essentially family and would spend lots of time with Gordy and his family.  I got pretty excited when the tour guide pointed to an orange vinyl couch and said “Stevie Wonder sat there” !!!!!!  Pictures weren’t allowed anywhere in the building, so you’ll just have to go see that couch for yourself next time you’re in the Detroit area.

Definitely the coolest part of the tour was at the end, when they let us stand right inside studio A.  All the instruments are still in the studio – the 19th century Steinway grand piano, hammond organ, drum kit, and vibraphone.  It felt pretty magical to stand in the same room that Smokey Robinson, Dianna Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 all stood, danced, grooved, and sang.  Right in front of the mixing board, the linoleum floor is worn right through to the wood in several places, from decades of musicians, producers, and sound engineers tapping their feet to the mix.

Motown Records is an inspiring story of a small, tight-knit group of people who worked extremely hard, and also extremely creatively, while overcoming obstacles of racial prejudice, to define a new era in music, and introduce it to the world.

 

 

 

Six months out of the year, my wife, Alexey, works as a product specialist for Scion.  This involves traveling to auto shows around the country and educating those in attendance about the Scion automotive brand.  With her doing that, and me being a musician, ever since we met, we both kept saying how cool it would be if I could find shows to play in cities where she was working, which would enable us to both be working while we travel together.  This past September, I started the process of contacting venues and looking for places to play shows in or near cities where Alexey would be working.  I also lewis and alexeyfound local musicians in some of those cities who were willing to join me for the show.

We already started the first leg of the tour – Alexey’s first show was in late November in Los Angeles.  I wasn’t able to pick up any gigs in LA, but found a cool open mic to play at.  We spent the week leading up to the new year in Indianapolis and I played with a couple local bands at a great venue called Melody Inn.  The auto shows in the next few months will bring me to venues in or near Detroit, St. Louis, Minneapolis, New York, and Chicago.  I’ll also play some gigs en route, which will include different places in Tennessee, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois.  I’m very thankful to the venues who have booked me, the bands who have agreed to join, and most of all, I’m thankful to be able to do what I love while having a great time traveling with my lovely wife.  Tomorrow night I’ll be at Midtown Brewing Company in Lansing, MI with local musician Alex Mendenall.  Show starts at 9pm, free admission.

Here are all the upcoming dates for my tour

1.15 Lansing, MI @ Midtown Brewing Company w/ Alex Mendenall

1.22 Hamtramck, MI @ Elijah’s w/ Honeybabe, the Sugarbombs

1.23 Plymouth, MI @ Plymouth Coffee Bean Company, w/ Gravity Club, Kevin Allan

1.29 St. Louis, MO @ Evangeline’s Bistro & Music House

2.6 Cedar Rapids, IA @ Sag Wagon Deli & Brew

2.15 Chicago, IL @ Uncommon Ground (Devon) w/ Katamalinga

2.19 Chicago, IL @ Covenant Presbyterian Church

2.20 Dixon, IL @ Books on First

3.5 Sterling, IL @ The Rusty Fox

3.7 Iowa City, IA @ Gabe’s w/ Dan Dimonte

3.11 Sioux City, IA @ The Conservatory

3.12 Cedar Rapids, IA @ Sag Wagon Deli & Brew

3.15 Exelsior, MN @ 318 Cafe w/ Ginger Bones

3.17 La Crosse, WI @ The Root Note

3.18 St. Joseph, MN @ The Local Blend

3.19 Cambridge, IL @ Ca ‘d’ Zan w/ The Saturday Giant

3.23 Knoxville, TN @ WDVX Blue Plate Special

3.29 Brooklyn, NYC @ Pete’s Candy Shop w/ Caitlin Mahoney

4.6 Binghamton, NY @ Cyber West Cafe

4.7 Canton, OH @ Cultured Coffee – Open Mic Feature

4.8 Yellow Springs, OH @ The Spirited Goat

 

When I moved back to the Quad Cities and began pursuing a career in music, I heard about a show on the radio called “Art Talk” in which artists in the Quad Cities and surrounding areas were interviewed.  I found out the host of the show was named Bruce Carter, so I sent him an email, and he replied saying he’d love to do an interview, so we set one up for the summer of 2014.  I went on his show with two band members, and Bruce interviewed us about how the band started, our new album, and our upcoming shows.  But the thing he seemed most interested in was the creative process of songwriting.  During the interview I found out new things about how and why I write songs.  I believe this is a mark of someone who is truly great at interviewing – they draw information and insight out of their guest that the guest may not have known, or been able to articulate before.

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The moment I met Bruce Carter I remember feeling as if I had known him for a long time.  Not only was he very interested in finding out why I wrote songs, I remember him being very encouraging, and telling me he thought I would be successful writing and performing music.

Only a few months after our interview – one year ago today – at what seemed like the much-too-early age of 66, Bruce died.  A tribute to his life and impact on other artists, also featuring some of his own art, was done by the River Cities’ Reader which you can find here.

Shortly before his passing, Bruce Carter was interviewed by my friend Andrew King, in a rare role reversal of an interview with the interviewer, which took place at Rozz Tox in Rock Island, IL.  Thankfully, this interview was recorded, so please make some time to listen to introspective hour where Bruce Carter speaks on what it means to create art, and specifically how the Quad Cities’ art scene is developing.  Among my favorite quotes from it:

“I’m at the point of my life where I don’t need anything for Christmas except good coffee and groovy socks”.

Last night Chris and I played at Var Gallery, an art gallery in Milwaukee.  An artist working on a project called Bass Structures used the sound coming from our music to create art on canvas.  I don’t know technically how it all worked, but basically the canvas was placed on top of the speaker, and then pigment and paint thinner were poured on at different times during our performance, and as the speaker resonated, the paint splashed around to create a unique piece of art.  Below are pictures from the beginning, middle, and end of the process.  Stay tuned for more pictures and videos from this project.

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Yesterday morning my mom texted me and said “You should blog about your tour like you used to blog when you were in Korea”.

I’ve been on tour with Chris Bell for a whole week now.  I believe we’ve played 9 shows in 7 days at this point.  Last night we played at the 318 Cafe in Excelsior, Minnesota.  You know it’s a great place when the servers who have the night off come in to hang out just because they like the place.  The interior is all made up of exposed rustic wood beams and wood floor, with perfect lighting.  As soon as I sat down with Chris, he said “This is really a place you should take your wife”, which I had just been thinking.  A local musician who goes by Ginger Bones shared the stage with us who played an incredible set with a violinist, and basically packed the place.  318 calls itself a “listening room” and that is actually what happens.  There was a dedicated sound guy, who did a great job running the quality sound system, and when we started playing, people started listening.  We have several songs where we solicit crowd participation (singing, stomping, clapping) and last night’s crowd did not disappoint.  The only unfortunate thing was that, before we got to the cafe, I had eaten a bunch of Chinese food and I had become ‘MSG-full’, a trend which continued for the rest of the night, and into the next morning.  I definitely plan on playing at this place again in the future, and next time will come ready to chow down on some excellent food.

Tonight we head to Green Bay, Wisconsin to play at the Lyric Room.