Tuesday, October 27, 2015

No Use Waiting

Here it is folks, No Use Waiting, from our new album out Nov 20th at Columbia City Theater

This is the story:

When I was 18 years old, I hit the road on a solo cross­country bicycle trip. I had graduated high school the year before, and completed a year of studying various liberal arts at Boston College which felt like a really boring continuation of high school. I sensed the world that I had always known was stale, and I felt overwhelmingly compelled to discover what the rest of the universe was like. 
In the years since, I've had more than a few self­propelled big life changes, but that was the first, and the biggest. I don't remember feeling much fear, but I do remember often feeling both pure elation and incredible loneliness on that trip.

I left October 7th, 1997. My 18th anniversary of that day recently passed, and the scales are tipping toward having lived more of my life away from Massachusetts than I ever spent living there. It is not a small milestone, and I'm reminded that the passing of time is a perpetually wondrous experience. 
I can't remember anymore how I found out about the Adventure Cycling Association (seriously, it's so hard to remember the days before the internet was ubiquitous), but I do remember calling from the beige telephone on the wall in my parent's kitchen to request a series of maps for the US East Coast. The maps arrived in the mailbox a couple of weeks later, and I set to preparing. A bicycle mechanic at the local shop befriended me when I told him my plans, and I spent at least one night after the shop closed getting a crash course in bike mechanics. I knew nothing. But he made sure that I could change a flat and even gave me a can of beer to drink while we worked. 
That night truly felt like I had passed some kind of threshold into adulthood.

It was too staggering to figure out how to navigate through Boston to hook up with the ACA suggested route, so my mum packed up the car that day with my bike and bags, and drove us out to the small town of Oxford, MA where I could pick up my bike trail. I wrote in my journal that night, while camping about 20 miles down the road and eating canned corn (yep, I packed canned food. I was painfully inexperienced at first), that I thought leaving my mother was the hardest thing I had ever done. 
I remember the feeling so clearly to this day....it was terrible. I've thought often about that day, and wonder how my mother was able to open her arms and let me go. Birth and growth can be plenty painful, but she somehow found the strength to make the transition as easy as it could be. Easier for me, at least, and I wrote this song as a testament to what a great mum she's been.

I've just started reading Chrissie Hynde's memoir about her life as a Pretender, and she has a lot to say about growing up safe and warm and white in the Akron 'burbs during the 1950s and 60s. Mainly, that while her parent's generation was preoccupied with mundane things like providing for their families, her generation defied them all and pondered the meaning of life on acid. Chrissie uses humor well in her writing. I'm lucky too; sitting in the driver's seat of my life, able to make choices, and preoccupied with mundane things like being happy. 
There's no use waiting for the shoe to drop, waiting for the Maker to call it off.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Neighborhood Has Changed

Our state is on fire. The summer of 2015 is going down as the hottest and driest on record here in Seattle.  Hundreds of thousands of wild salmon have died en route to spawning, due to low water levels (we had an unusually dry winter, thus have a lack of snowpack melt), and increased water temperatures.  Between May 1st and July 31st, we recorded a record total of a mere .9 inches of rainfall.  I cannot overemphasize the dramatic shift in landscape these past few months...dead brown lawns where green grass once grew, the snowless blue/grey outline of the Cascades to the east and the Olympics to the west.  Our garden beds are but dust, though we've been home often enough this summer to toss a little greywater on the tomatoes and potatoes, and we've had quite a decent harvest.  This was the first year we planted tomatoes with seeds we'd saved from last season, started outdoors in February, so I wonder if our extra-resilient plants were perfectly timed for such a difficult season.  

While the landscape suffers, Aimee and I have had a fruitful musical season, spending most of the summer touring as the rhythm section for the Ian McFeron Band.  Our travels brought us to northern Idaho in mid-August, routing through central and eastern Washington.  We traveled along I-90 mostly, about a hundred miles south of some of the biggest fires actively burning in WA state.  The smoke was incredibly thick.  At our gig in Sand Point ID on the 19th, big flakes of ash quietly sprinkled down throughout the night, remnants I presume from the Clark Fork fires 25 miles east of us.  Our gear was dusted with a fine layer by the end of the set.  The following night in Coeur d'Alene, ID, we played in a park on a giant sundial, facing west.  The sun set directly in our faces, the most intense ruby-red glow I've ever seen.  The crescent moon later that night was also the brightest red I'd seen, an eery jewel against the black sky.  Both were bizarrely beautiful after-effects of these raging fires.

I spent a good part of that road trip paging through Timothy Egan's 1991 bestseller "The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest".  It's a beautiful book, sort of a combination history book, journal, love letter, and political/environmental commentary.  In many ways, it helped to organize my thoughts on the current social and environmental problems we face today.  On one hand, I feel some real despair that so little has changed for the better in the past 25 years.  That's a vague statement I know, but it could take me a whole book to elaborate, and I'd recommend reading The Good Rain for that information.  On the other hand though, Egan's narrative serves to strongly remind me of the amazing natural beauty in this region, and of all the people who strive to protect it.  His writing heavily influenced a couple of tracks on our new MoZo album The Neighborhood Has Changed, a release we'll celebrate in Seattle with a show at Columbia City Theater on Nov 20th.  The title track is meant to serve a few functions; as a pop tune with a catchy chorus that appeals to people in both melody and lyric, a historically informative song, and a balance between acknowledging despair and recognizing hope.  

The lyrics are as follows:

A thousand years ago and a thousand before that, along the Black River people lived and worked and laughed. Then in 1916 it dried up and went away because the Lake Washington Ship Canal was run to Salmon Bay. Now concrete and glass rise above an ancient glacial lake and all people do is complain. They say there's too much traffic man, it was different back in the day…but back in the day was before eminent domain. And it's never coming back again, because the neighborhood has changed. Every day in Ballard there's a new Proposed Land Use sign, they're tearing down the houses to build townhomes that are all alike. So much wealth in the hands of so few means nobody's left who cares to take care like they used to. Life as we know it isn't life as we knew it, the only thing steady is change. Keep the history, teach the history, turn around, change.


It's meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek you know.  On the surface, I thought the refrain might ring true, especially to Seattleites who have witnessed the massive changes of the last few years.  Explaining all those changes could also fill a book, but suffice to say the city is rapidly growing, many people are facing an affordable housing crisis, others spend an ever-increasing amount of time sitting in their cars, and dozens of houses around our block have been torn down and replaced with luxury housing.  But the truth is that things have been changing dramatically in this region for  centuries.  Every generation inherits problems and can create solutions.  For the people who lived here for ten thousand years before George Vancouver paid a visit, the arrival of settlers, timber barons, and fur traders must have been truly horrifying.  This song is a nod to that truth, and tries to acknowledge that my problems today are an extension of yesterday's reality.  Things change, but we can learn to do better if we can remember the past. 

It seems that folks these days have shorter and shorter attention spans, and it's a mystery to me how it is that intricate art can function properly in the face of all of the instant gratification entertainment options out there.  Aims and I have tried to do our part in creating work we're proud of, work that speaks to living well, having fun, and leaving things better than you found them.  I did a phone interview this week with a reporter from the Quad Cities, regarding an upcoming MoZo show in Rock Island, IL that will celebrate the release of our new album in front of many friends and family.  I ended the interview with an uneasy feeling that I did a poor job explaining the complicated process of sustaining a life through playing music.  
I worry that we came across as a side project, something I didn't believe in fully.  There are a lot of old models out there that some performers still follow...some of which the reporter brought up, commenting that MoZo didn't play as many shows per year that other bands do, and that nowadays the money comes in from playing shows.  I'm pretty sure I answered that we could talk for hours about the state of the music industry, and then I rambled for awhile about our motivations…but I hope that what came across is this:
Most musicians I know are creating more and earning less than ever before.  True, the most money I've made this year from music came from playing shows, and Aims herself this year has performed over 100 gigs and played on half a dozen albums...but it's a long way from a traditional living.  Successful musicians who "make their living" playing music use models that vary as wildly as the musicians themselves.  And for the most part, the money definitely isn't exclusively from playing shows.  For us, the model and the norm is about filling our time with passionate creativity, and involves everything from teaching kids songwriting to running sound at a local book talk.  MoZo and our original music is at the top of the list of things we care about, but I'm unsure of how to quickly convey that to reporters who may be wondering why we aren't advertising our work, playing more shows, focusing exclusively on one band, scrambling for airplay, or why we're rolling out a self-released album months (and thousands of miles) apart.  But I never really had a taste for the business side of the industry anyway, and that industry has shifted so much it's unclear what the most useful business practices even are anymore.

Take a listen to the title track.  And next time we see you out and about, let us know what you think.  Until then, live well, have fun, be thankful, and enjoy the rest of summer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Most Dangerous Woman in America

Anyone out there know the title's reference? Mary Harris Jones, or Mother Jones. I first came to know her from the fantastic Ani Difranco/Utah Phillips collaboration "Fellow Workers". I highly recommend buying a copy here. Quick summary, though hearing Utah Phillips tell it is what really does the story justice: Mother Jones was a union organizer, particularly involved in helping striking coal miners. For her efforts, she was dubbed "the most dangerous woman in America" during a 1902 trial because, as the prosecuting attorney put it, "..she comes into a state where peace and prosperity reign…crooks her finger and twenty thousand contented men lay down their tools and walk out." As the story goes, Theodore Roosevelt himself referred to her this way, when she was 83 years old. 

This phrase also appeared in last week's Seattle Times front page feature on Kshama Sawant ("the K is silent, as in 'I'm knowledgeable about knives from Vermont, by Kshama Sawant'"-©The Stranger), the Socialist city council member here in Seattle. There is a brief reference made to the fact that the book she is currently writing about herself was initially titled "The Most Dangerous Woman in America." Cool, I thought, what an appropriate title…it's ironic, powerful, a nod to the history of Socialism, it speaks to the power of the people which is what government fears most! However, the next graph had this quote from Sawant: "It was news to me when I saw [the title]…for a self-authored book, it sounds too self-important. That isn't me."

The month prior, I had gotten up early on Martin Luther King Day, and made my way down to the Central District for a morning of workshops, rallies, and an afternoon march through Seattle streets, the theme being Fight for Your Rights in 2015. I was especially interested in attending a workshop on fighting for your right to affordable housing. It promised to provide info on "how to build a movement to stop rent hikes, win rent control, and massively expand affordable housing in Seattle." It advertised that 2 of the 3 speakers were leading figures of the local Socialist movement, Kshama Sawant and Jess Spear. Much to my anger and chagrin, not until after the workshop started did a legislative aide to Sawant (Adam Ziemkowski) get up, declare that Kshama was not speaking this morning, but that they had to say that she was because otherwise "people wouldn't show up." He awkwardly laughed a minute later and said "seriously though, Kshama would love to be here, but she hurt her ankle." He reeked of arrogance and, oddly enough, establishment politics. I was reminded about how many times I've heard that Sawant's star power is getting the better of her, that she's impossible to get meetings with, she's too big for her britches, etc. I had so far dismissed these whisperings as that of a scared establishment trying to undermine her agenda. But, her people are suggesting that all of us are only in that room to hear her? I was spitting mad! I dragged my ass down there because I care about the issues! Because I'm watching my neighborhood get torn to pieces, all the affordable places demolished and replaced with 750k+ town homes, and I'm seeing the apartments that are left take the opportunity to double the rent. I was there because 2 years ago, the last time I had to move, I was given 30 days notice to find a place, and I couldn't find one. I'm lucky enough to have kind friends who let me stay with them for months while I desperately searched. Here's the bleak picture of trying to find a place to live in Seattle when you make less than 25k/year: you scour the internet constantly, call listings obsessively, show up at addresses 3 hours early, find out the address of the landlord and send them flowers, your latest album, anything, let them know you're a nice person, beg them please rent to me please please please. It's humiliating, in many ways. And meanwhile, federal money from the EB-5 program is developing more than 2 billion dollars worth of luxury buildings around downtown instead of helping economically distressed areas (as intended). That's why I was in that workshop, that's why everyone else was there too. It wasn't to see a celebrity, it's because the quality of our lives depend on the issue. The workshop proceeded to be a huge waste of time. A failure. A wasted opportunity. I sensed Adam the legislative assistant understood that, but he certainly didn't have the charisma or know-how to salvage it. He had a room full of engaged interested people, and all that was offered were two under-qualified speakers (Jess Spear didn't show up either) who rambled for way too long. Next time, if you're going to admit to lying in order to dupe people into getting into the room, at least respect them enough to try and get some actual work done!

Back to The Most Dangerous Woman in America. I was disappointed that Kshama Sawant missed an opportunity to explain the reference, as opposed to claiming the title sounded too self-important. She missed the entire point, as well as a great teaching moment...though I know it's possible the Times left out her explanation. Truthfully, I feel guilty being critical of someone I have a lot of respect for, so I want to note that I voted for Sawant, and I believe she does many good things. It's unfortunate that my closest interaction with her staff was so disappointing. But the positive result of that negative experience is that the article, as well as the workshop incident, caused me to revisit that Ani Difranco/Utah Phillips album. I listened to it all morning, and it affirmed my sense of awe and respect of the power of music to educate and entertain, all at once. Look at Bob Dylan. Marvin Gaye. Blue Scholars. Nina Simone. I love all that music, deeply, and I am reminded that I want to double down and create entertaining music that can also serve as a chronicle of the goings-on of our time. MoZo is heading into the studio again at the end of May, and we'll be working on bringing you the best we have to offer. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Dreams, Undeferred

Sunday night, at the close of one of the best games I've ever seen, a group of millionaires on the field began throwing punches at each other. They were frustrated and stressed about a game...a game after which even the losing team's players get a $49,000 bonus (on average a year's salary for people in the US, and twice that of mine). It turned my stomach to watch. This is what role model behavior looks like? Is it too much to ask for some good sportsmanship and gratitude? You might say to me, those were a few bad eggs and the game is about more than just money. And I would agree. 
The Seahawk's recent season represents a lot of beauty out here in Seattle. I see it reflected in my friends, my family, my neighbors, strangers on the street...unity, tradition, tenacity, charity, loyalty, hope, brotherhood, fun. There is a palpable sense in this city of being part of something bigger than yourself. But really, the core of the NFL is just business-as-usual, let's make some money. And as Jon Stewart said, they care more about what's on Marshawn Lynch's head (a non-approved Beast Mode hat) than what's in it (his brain, likely to be significantly damaged after his stint in the NFL). For me, it makes that beauty feel a lot like a byproduct, a side effect of a heartless non-profit (ha!) machine as it goes about filling the pockets of people who wouldn't recognize selflessness if it bit them in the face. That beauty has a bitter aftertaste.

In the Seattle TV market, a commercial ran early on during the Super Bowl featuring Jennifer Hudson singing "o-o-h Child" in a diner with 5 "unknown" artists. It's part of a new ad campaign called "Dream Fearlessly" launched by American Family Insurance. The basic pitch is that AmFam is helping artists achieve their dreams...and lo and behold MoZo was selected as featured musicians for the radio campaign! Aims and I get renters insurance from AmFam, and our local Ballard agent Maria Gonzales knew we played music (after meeting us once 2 years ago), and recently passed our name along to the higher-ups. Old school! We have a real-live agent with a real-live office a half mile from our apartment, who knows and remembers what we do for a living! And as I've mentioned, we're not raking in the big bucks for Maria. We are surely a tiny, tiny account for her.

MoZo @ High Dive, Seattle 2014

Essentially, American Family has donated some of their radio airtime to feature our music. Ads will run in WA, OR, ID, and the Dakotas through April. We'll also get some print press in AmFam magazines, but alas, as of right now we've got no arrangements to sing and/or act with Jennifer Hudson.
Jokes aside, it's been a nice way to kick off the new year, feeling validated as working musicians. The pay isn't much, but it's something. In the dozen or so years we've been making and trying to sell music, I've watched the ability to support yourself plummet...I know, I know, a story that's been told and re-told many times. It's hard to make a living! But companies like Spotify, and the digital revolution in general, have literally cheapened the value of music so much that even I myself question the value of my own hard work. But People! The soundtrack to your life should not be free! We need to value music for the balm it is, the savior of many, the buoy, the joy, the light in the dark, the darkness articulated! 
We need to value music by sustaining those who create it!!

But, you know, the truth is that most of us are gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay. As Gillian Welch once sang. I am incredibly blessed to have the means and circumstance to live my dreams, undeferred. I'm in music for the passion, the exhilaration, the product. Not product simply in the commercial sense, but as a tangible thing...a song that someone can listen to on a bus, staring out the window, feeling something primal and true. I'm in it for the intangible experience of seeing live shows, connecting essential dots in your soul. I'm lucky. Realizing the dream has taught me the art of gratitude. I mean, I live in a moldy apartment with rats in the walls in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and it's perfect for me. I've surrounded myself with people I love, admire and respect, and I want for literally nothing in this world. I'm happy. And I've tried to learn not to throw temper tantrums when trivial things upset me. It's a lesson that would've been nice to see lived out on that field in Arizona. I'll end with a photo of the garlic beds we put into the planting strip in front of the apartment last year, around the time the NFL season was starting. There's a lesson in there somewhere if you look, something about tenacity, survival, hope, and growth.