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”:


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.

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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.

4th of July

One of my favorite music-related memories is when Teddy Morgan and I asked our new friend Carl Broemel if he wanted to “winthorp” with us. (For those of you not hip to this, it’s our side project of getting together to record hours of improvised space jams for almost no one’s enjoyment but our own.) The conversation after we explained it:

“Sounds cool! I’ll bring my pedal steel!”

“Oh, you know how to play pedal steel?”



Carl is one of a rare group of fearless musicians. He approaches an unfamiliar musical territory with respect and patience, and it’s not long before these lands seem like nothing more than an extension of himself. 4th of July, his new record, is a beautiful showcase of this.

Listening to these songs makes me smile so, so much—they are so well-crafted, the production is near-perfect, the experience of recording them was so fun, the players—holy moses, can I talk about the players for a bit? Jordan Caress of Ponychase, Tom Blankenship and Bo Koster, his bandmates in My Morning Jacket…seriously, there were times I finished a take and thought, “I am the luckiest guy in the world,” and, “why am I here, this must be a mistake,” at the same time. Neko Case sang on the title track and even though that was an overdub without me I’m still going to tell everyone I’m on a record with her.

Anyway! The point I am trying to make is I think this is a great record, and I’d love it if everyone in the world would take a moment to listen.

Hello, it's Spring

Spring in Minneapolis is your free-spirited ex-girlfriend who just moved back into town. “You’re back!” you say, breathless. “I missed you,” she whispers, sliding into your arms as if nothing had ever changed. Later that night, as you drift off to sleep in a post-coital bliss, you dream of how this time will be different, somehow your happiness will convince her to stay. But you wake up to find she’s gone, again, chasing dreams in a warmer climate while you lie stubbornly to anyone who will listen. Her absence doesn’t bother you. She’ll be back in a few weeks. You hope.

In honor of another (admittedly very mild, thanks El Niño and climate change) Minneapolis winter on her way out the door, here are a few things I’ve been working on, presented in meaningless order:

My friend Carl Broemel’s new record has just been mastered and will soon be released to the wild. Like his last record, it was recorded off-and-on over a few years, and like his last record it’s a heart-breakingly beautiful piece of work. I had the huge pleasure of playing with some incredible musicians on this, and can’t wait for you to hear it.

Speaking of incredible musicians, last month I joined Brandy Zdan for a duo show on her way through Minneapolis. I met Brandy last year while in Nashville; we recorded a few songs together in what turned out to be one of the most emotionally exhausting and creatively rewarding moments in my musical timeline. I haven’t written much about it—one of those cases where words are a letdown in comparison—but suffice to say playing those songs again was a joy. One of the most fun aspects of the show was taking on a challenge of performing multiple instruments—playing a keyboard to my left while playing drums; firing loops and samples while playing Moog and Omnichord parts; walking over to my bari sax for a solo through a multitude of delays. Special thanks goes out to my Macbook Pro for not melting into a puddle of silicon.

I’ve also stumbled into a few new projects; one that I’ve truly been enjoying is joining John Munson, Matt Wilson, and friends in the The Twilight Hours. The band is sort of a linear extension of their time together as Trip Shakespeare; the songs share a similar fearless, quirky, pop sensibility. They have a new record coming out very soon and some ambitious ideas planted—I’m excited to see what blossoms this summer.

Ableton Live and Akai’s Endless Encoders

Have you bought an Akai MPK225, or something similar, and plugged it into Ableton Live only to be stumped because its "endless" rotary encoders are mapped to a device as absolute encoders by default? No? Well, sorry—you've picked a bad time to casually browse through my website, because I'm about to get technical.

On the other hand, if you answered "yes”—you are not alone.

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I had a such a great time last week at the Friendly Forest (Creative Workshop Studio in Nashville, TN). Made some new friends, hugged some old friends, spent equal time in space exploration and playing respectable music which may actually end up on an album one day.

I also hopped around like a kid at Christmas between these two kits, and if you thought this post was just an excuse to be a drum geek for a sec, then you are RIGHT.

On the left is my 1970s 3-ply maple Ludwig; on the right is Teddy Morgan’s new sweet “Questlove” kit. The Questlove is so, so tiny but sounds surprisingly punchy under a set of mics. The rebound off of these little drums is way different than what I’m used to and it made it a joy to play. There are lots of vintage Zildjians and new Istanbuls and goat hooves and metal bits and spurs and blades and chains and shakers sprinkled about, too.