I was trying to find video of me playing drums to explain to my daughter what it is I do for a "living" and after a trip down the rabbit hole I found this, which she watched six hundred times. It's a fun clip of Erik Koskinen and band closing out a night at Mears Park with "Boomtown." (This show was the first music I played after returning home with my daughter this summer.) Video by Gina Smith.

My friend Molly Maher is hosting a new duets series in downtown St. Paul, Two X Deuxdélicieusement français!—and was gracious enough to invite me and a friend into a slot. I'll be teaming up with my bass playing pal Cody McKinney for a fun night of heavy and electronically-inspired rhythm section improvisation. This will be the first time I've used my hybrid drums-into-Ableton setup in an improv setting versus a carefully arranged setlist, so I'm imagining the odds of the set completely imploding on itself are pretty high, guaranteeing an interesting show (for you), and a chance to run through some pre-written apologies (for me).

If you're around the St. Paul area this Tuesday evening, it'd be great to see you there.

(Anti) Social Media

Remember MySpace? I do, if only vaguely. I was a holdout, although I couldn’t really say why. After months (years?) of friends saying how it was indispensable for promotion and networking, and with me having none of those skills, I finally signed up right around the time everyone started moving to Facebook. I was a Facebook holdout until all my friends said how indispensable it was for networking and promotion, and with me having none of those skills I finally signed up. The same with Twitter, and Instagram, until eventually I settled into a happy mental stasis with them all and used them to promote, and network, and share good things, and stay in touch with family, and reconnect with old friends, and all was well until I realized what a miserable person I was becoming.

I realize not being on any social media these days is akin to being That Guy who’s “never even OWNED a TV,” but vegging out on the Great British Bake Off for an hour might bum me out about my soggy pie crusts, at worst. Here’s a small list of things about social media that crush my heart:

  • The feeling when I see others doing projects I wish I was doing
  • The way I engage with others I don’t agree with
  • The amount of time that flies by while I’m tricking myself into thinking I’m making meaningful interactions with other people
  • Watching humanity slowly evolve into a hive mind of instant opinion
  • The feeling I get with trying to promote anything I’m doing artistically
  • Handing over my content and personal information to advertisers
  • The compulsion I feel when it’s available
  • I just hate it

But I get it! Social media is the world today. It’s how you are probably checking in with everyone you know, how you get your news, how you tell people what you’re doing. My options for doing so without it are a) keeping this website updated, and b) keeping people updated personally, both of which I am completely terrible at. All that said! I’ve been running into people I haven’t seen for a few months and they’ve all been asking, “where have you been?” So here’s where I’ve been.

I played music—I shared a lot of stage time, plus a healthy amount of studio time, with the Twilight Hours, Chris Koza, Erik Koskinen, Dylan Hicks, and more. A few interesting outliers like pretending to be Tommy Lee with Jeremy Ylvisaker’s Mötley Crüe tribute band (!) and a night backing up Sandra Bernhard (!!!).

I’ve had some projects fizzle (more than I care to admit) and joined a few others, one of the more fun being John Munson’s brainchild of 60s/70s organ funk, the Fragrants. I’ve been steadily plucking away at new music, although if any of it hits the airwaves before the end of the year it’ll be a small miracle.

I’ve acquired some new, inspiring gear—I’ve had more fun playing my 70s clear Vistalites equipped with triggers and effects than I’ve had in a while, and I’m the proud new owner of an Ableton Push which lets me play my favorite software like a musical instrument that can do almost anything I want it to.

More importantly, though, I’ve acquired new family. My wife, five-year-old son, and I journeyed off to Kolkata, India to meet and bring home with us our new daughter, two-year-old Aradhya. We’ve been deep in the adoption path for almost two years, and the joys of this beautiful, spirited, and shining girl in our life far outweigh any of the challenges we’ve faced in our process.

Turns out not steadily publishing my life is a slightly healthier way to live it. Let's stay in touch, us, okay?

Bones and Wire

They say time is the healer, but, you know, it tends to take a while. For me, the better option has always been music, which I guess is why late in the summer of last year when I was feeling, say, less than my best, I decided I’d make a record.

I picked up my laptop and wrote an email to a few of my favorite people, musicians I loved playing with but didn't get to very often: Cody McKinney, a bass player whose melodic sense is second-to-none; Jeremy Ylvisaker, the epitome of a fearless musician; DeVon Gray, the truest steward of art I know. I didn't have an idea of what music to play, so I proposed something I rarely get to do—gathering for a “writing” session of improvisation and constructing an album based on the themes we invent. I hit “send” and waited.

Well, those suckers all agreed it was a grand idea, so a few months later we hauled our favorite instruments to The Pearl Recording Studio here in Minneapolis and two days after that I was sifting through hours of music. The biggest surprise for me wasn't how much fun the session was, or how much material we recorded—lots and lots, respectively—but how complete most of it sounded. I don't know what molecules fall into place to have a timeline of music considered a song, versus a stream of silly ideas, but turns out there's a surprising amount of both hiding in here.

So! Schedules and money being what they are, it’s taking a little time to record the initial concept of composed music born from the therapy of improvisation. In the meantime, though, we’re releasing the little gems from our initial recording sessions as we find them. Here’s our first, accompanied by a sweet and determined anthropomorphic snowman. It’s apropos for the season! It also makes me feel better about the future somehow.

Fly By Night

My 2017 has been a little slow on the rock front, so when my friend John Munson called to pitch the idea of playing in a musical it didn’t take much convincing. “Sure!” I say, not really a) being a fan of musical theater; b) not knowing what to expect playing musical theater; c) not being entirely confident about the two-month commitment.

So here it is, two months later, and the run of Fly By Night, produced by the Jungle Theater here in Minneapolis, is almost over. And? Well, it’s been nothing short of a great time, and I’ll honestly be a little bummed when it’s over.

I’m still not sure if I’m the right drummer for musicals, in general, but being the drummer in this musical has been pretty fun. The band was picked because we weren’t a “typical” theater band, and the “book” (industry slang for the musical score) was pretty open to interpretation, so I got to make a lot of musical contributions instead of simply reading my way through the material. The cast is incredible and I’ve learned so much from observing how they absorb and commit themselves to their roles and pace themselves through a run. The crew at the Jungle has been great, and overall the vibe has been one of a big family from day one.

The mental headspace required to play a musical (vs. a rock show) was interesting for me. There’s not much in the way of, say, getting carried away emotionally in a part and steering the band to a new dynamic level. Or extending a solo if everyone’s feeling good. The challenge is in being engaged emotionally and mentally enough to create a world where the actions of the actors onstage are completely believable. It requires a complete sort of mental dedication, not unlike a recording session, but for a few hours at a time versus a few minutes. I put more time than I was expecting into learning choreography, of sorts—committing stick changes and sampler patch changes and percussion moves to muscle memory to navigate through the music quickly and smoothly.

I’m counting myself lucky to have learned more than I was expecting to, in a positive and supportive environment, making new friends with talented and good people. In this crazy world of making music, that sort of combo is a gold needle in an oversized haystack.

There are four shows left in the run as I type this, so if you’re near Minneapolis it’s worth a shot to see if there are still tickets available.

And finally, here’s a fun thing from the mind of Royer Bockus—the cast and crew’s contribution to the #Ham4All challenge, a campaign raising awareness and funds for the Immigrants: We Get the Job Done Coalition. I played drums, mixed, and made my acting debut as “Puzzle Ponderer #2”:

Plains

A few years ago I stuffed a drum set and a few boxes of recording gear into a van for a run of shows in the Midwest with my friend in pizza and freestyle rap, Mike Sembos, and his band The Backyard Committee. (A bit more about that here.)

That trip feels like forever ago, long enough where I’m not sure it really happened, but look! Proof of good times in the form of two live records were released just a few weeks ago. I played on and engineered “Plains.” Check out the record (and its insane album art!) over here.

Live, Pt. 4: The Instruments

Welcome back, I say to you but mostly to myself, to a series of posts on how I use Ableton Live. I started these posts back in 2015, a year where I was a lot more optimistic about what I could accomplish in my free time. A lot has changed since then—Wits, the show I was using as my example scenario, is no more; I’ve experimented with and evolved my Live workflow a bit; American democracy is collapsing with the election of a narcissistic tyrant by a gullibl…actually, can we forget that last one, just for today?

Anyway, where were we? Ah, yes, Live. It turns out that Live is pretty aptly named; it’s arguably more well-known as a programming tool but it’s also a powerful and versatile source of instrument sounds that you can play in real-time.

Continue reading →

Every Little Bit

I am what people call a “professional musician,” which is to say I make my living by playing music, drums mostly, for other people who pay me money in exchange. For years I’ve joked that my job isn’t real (it’s not, really) or is a selfish way to make a living (it is, mostly). This isn’t to say it doesn’t require ridiculous amounts of dedication and sacrifice—it does—it’s just that in the greater schemes of the universe it’s easy for me to see how I’m not exactly first in line for the group they’re gonna line up to populate the new Earth.

It is insane times at the moment. Out of many of the issues we’re facing, this new wave of insularity and nationalism is crushing me, and I wish there were more I could do. I can’t lie and say I don’t struggle with the fact that this job I pour so much time into does little-to-nothing for the greater good.

In related news, the Twilight Hours, the passion project of Matt Wilson, John Munson, and other fine men of much musical caliber, are playing a show at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis on March 25. We’ve been rehearsing, many times even, focusing on minutiae and trying our best to arrange a show we’ll be proud to perform and you will enjoy listening to. It is a lot of hard work and my calendar has a remarkable amount of things that start with “TTH” scribbled in it, but if the show is a success it’ll all be worth it.

All of this being said, I’m really happy to say we’re donating a portion of the show’s proceeds to the Minnesota chapter of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It is a tiny way to support just one organization working to promote social justice and mutual understanding. It is a small way to say “thank you” to a community we welcome and feel welcomed by.

And doing something, anything, helps me sleep just a tiny little bit better at night. If you’re around the Minneapolis area, I hope to see you there.

It’s crazy times in the world. One of the ways I’m staying sane is to spend a little more time in the drum room. Here’s a quick video from a few weeks ago, revisiting some old concepts—namely, running the drums through my friend Ableton Live for on-the-fly drum effects and looping. I’ve been experimenting with this over the years, but the biggest breakthroughs/challenges have been centered around hiding the laptop and executing ideas organically. I am still terrible at this but it is fun.