Six months ago, I had no idea I’d be making a solo album. Josh and I were returning to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Upstate New York after winning the “most wanted” vote the previous year. Our career hadn’t really gone the way we’d imagined it would, but we were still making new fans and playing all over. We’d even started raising money to record a follow up to our 2009 album “Have You Changed.” And even though there was every reason in the world to have seen it coming, I was completely taken off guard when Josh’s aspirations took a dramatic turn. Honestly, it just never occurred to me that The Brilliant Inventions wouldn’t make it, or go down scrapping. When I look back now, it’s painfully obvious that I’d been trying to keep a sinking ship afloat on my own, for a long time.
When it became clear that the new record we were planning on making, wasn’t going to happen (at least not in the way we’d imagined) I was honestly terrified. When you spend seven years of your life on a project that ends one day with a phone call, it’s kinda hard not to lose your shit.
One night I was getting in bed, trying not to have a panic attack, and I just couldn’t sleep. My head was spinning out of control with thoughts of the future. What should I do? Quit music? Get a real job? Go back to school? Move to India? I closed my eyes, but the darkness just swirled like a turbulent sea, tossing me around in my sheets. I was scared. I hadn’t prayed in years. I wasn’t even sure who or what to pray to. I decided just to ask the deepest, wisest part of myself one simple question: what the hell should I do?
Then I passed out.
I woke up some time later in a foggy delirium with an answer — an answer to a question that I couldn’t even remember yet. Then, just a though I was reading a letter, a simple message unfolded itself inside my mind. “You’re asking the wrong question,” it said. “You don’t need to know what to do with the rest of your life. You are dealing with hurt, insecurity, and fear. You are an artist, so make art out of it. That’s why you started doing this in the first place. These are the raw materials. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and make some music. That’s who you are. That’s what you do.” I don’t know where that came from, but I’ll never ever forget it.
“Have You Changed,” took two years to make. In some ways it took even longer. I won’t rehash all the shenanigans that took place on that project, but it was a war to make. Josh and I fought, sometimes bitterly, on so many details of the production that it was almost comical. I was always pushing for looser, more organic guitar parts and doubled vocals. Josh favored a sparse modern sound with clear unaffected voices. We labored over electric guitar distortions and harmony vocal levels. Our producer and friend, Will Robertson, had to play arbitrator on at least on occasion when tempers flared. But in the end, I think all that passion made for a pretty cool record.
But where do you go from there? Now on my own, with no one to fight with, could I make something good? There was no way I was going to do a “Have You Changed Part 2“, and I wasn’t about to even try. The only thing that made sense, was to take an entirely different approach all together. Our foray into the world of pop music had started to sour me on the genre entirely, and I found myself going back to the music that had initially inspired me to write songs: my parents old records. Early Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and so many more. I decided to make a totally different kind of record than the slick, clean, calculated and deliberated one that Josh and I had worked so hard on.
Once again, I enlisted the talents of Will Robertson, and told him what I had in mind. He got it right away and we put together a plan. We recorded Blackbirds in two weeks. That’s right, two weeks! We used an old Guild parlor guitar with completely dead strings. Much of the vocals and guitars were tracked together, without a click. We consciously left the mixes messy and kept “mistakes” all over the place. Then we chose a rootys americana instrumentation, when the songs called for more production: Banjo, harmonica, and pedal steel. All those choices, I think, made for edgier, but honest sounding collection. Edgy in an acoustic folk kinda way, that is.
I believe the strength of The Brilliant Inventions came from two dedicated artists hammering out there differences and refining their craft. I couldn’t do that alone. If I was going to have a strength as a solo artist, it was going to be singing from my heart, going with my gut, and letting the chips fall.
I don’t want to give away all my thoughts about this record. I hope you’ll find it deep and rich enough to explore and draw your own conclusions about. The title, for instance, has a lot of significance for me, but I’ll leave that for you to ponder. I will say, this collection of songs is about growing up. It’s about coming to terms with who you are, and what’s most important. It’s about dealing with youthful impulses and unhelpful emotions. Hopefully, it’s an honest picture of who am I, or who I was. Unlike some other projects I’ve worked on, I have no hopes or illusions that this will be commercially viable. I just wanted to make something I would want to listen to. And I just needed to deal with my shit, the only way I know how.
Thank for coming along with me.