Soccer and Life

The gas was off at my house for three weeks in June, but I hardly noticed. Why? Because I’ve been out watching just about every World Cup game I can get my eyes on.

I grew up playing soccer, starting at age 5 and on into NCAA Division III at my university. Soccer has a lot to do with how I live my life. I feel like I’ve learned all that I could from the game, and sometimes I forget those lessons, but when I watch a game or step onto the field, it all comes back. It’s life. A competitive soccer game has everything you can expect out of life: short-lived celebrations, pain, misery, comraderie, patience, pressure, loneliness, deceit, scandal, discouragement, achievement, failure, communication, and nonstop action. You have to work harder and smarter than your opponent, you have to believe in yourself, and you have to fight off making mistakes when you’re tired. You can catch a lucky break, and you’ll need it, but you have to be in the right place on the field at the right time for that to happen. If you don’t want the ball, you’ll never get it. Your preparation for the game is the most important part of it all. While there are two teams, it’s really a competition with yourself. Can you stay focused on your goal? Can you keep your teammates focused?

So here’s to soccer! Here’s to working your ass off to score a goal important to you in your life, here’s to coming up short and being honest with yourself for why you did. Here’s to failing again and again, here’s to emerging victorious and knowing it was worth it, and here’s to moving on to the next challenge while keeping the wolves at the door. Here’s to struggling to keep up, and here’s to being over prepared. Here’s to lessons learned from failure and success. Here’s to feeling like you’ve given everything you have, but finding a little more. Here’s to being exhausted but still finding the energy to smile.



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On Art and What It’s Worth

I recently watched this video of Richard Nash’s lecture on the past, present, and future of the book publishing industry.

The opening quote: “The 20th Century was about about sorting out supply…The 21st Century will be about sorting out demand…”

He touches on how this applies to music as well, how books and music, these sources of content that were once tangible products with production costs, they are now intangibles that cost nothing to produce.   Where there was once a separation of the artist and those who distributed the artist’s content, the artist can now be the distributor.  Exciting, right?  Consumers now get their content directly from its creator, the artist.   I know we all know this to be true, but it’s worth mentioning.  We are at a point in history with an unprecedented level of accessibility to our artists.  This is exciting for everyone.  I met a guy, he’s actually an uncle of one of our band members, and he was in a band that was so good, they were an opener for Ray Charles on the road for three months back in the day.  They also opened for Frankie Valli, and Tommy James and the Shondells.  His band never recorded a single song because studio time was too expensive for them to afford.

I am trying to break your heart.

While the cost of distributing art in select media has gone to zero, and the cost of recording it has also decreased significantly, I’d like to remind everyone that the labor involved has not.  This brings us to the concept of working for free.  If you are organizing a music festival, only book as many bands as you can pay.  Bands that are festival material are also acting as programmers for your festival.  They’re not simply musicians playing a set.  People are already getting the music for free. Why would musicians give them the live performance for free?

Getting back to meeting demand in the 21st Century, musicians have to ask what their audience needs to connect. This is the burning question, and the uncertain answers come in the form of merchandise.  Tom Petty sold tickets through Ticketmaster for a SuperHighway tour, an online tour through old concert footage/recordings at various points in his career, a new spin on documentary footage/anthology release.   A more common popular item is the vinyl record, the old-is-new idea. I love vinyl records because I can’t be on the move and listen to them, the album covers decorate my place, and when someone comes over, they see the covers and pick them up.  This used to be the only way to get music, and now it’s a novelty, but the aesthetic of the product is in demand.  Limited production and a feeling of exclusivity.  In a world of infinite, intangible content, we crave something limited and tangible that takes up a lot of space.  Unfortunately the production costs of these tangible novelties rests in the hands of the artist, who must also spend money on recording/mixing./mastering, print media promotions(flyers on the simplest level), web design/maintenance, e-commerce platform management, and TOURING.  Richard Nash speaks of writers getting sidetracked with the supply side of things, that supply will not make us happy as artists because it is not a means to connection.  “Only to the extent that the supply chain enables us to connect writer and reader should we use the supply chain that we’ve constructed.”  What’s the supply chain for the music industry?  We have songs available in various formats (intangible mp3s to box sets of vinyl records), we have merchandise, and we have live performances.  Regarding a connection to the art form, the music itself, it does not matter in which format you hear a song, right?  It’s the same song on mp3 as a vinyl record with slight differences in richness of sound.  So, connecting with the music costs nothing, but what about connecting with the musician?  What’s the demand?  How can a fan connect with the musician if connecting with the music isn’t enough?  Do you feel more connected to Tom Petty with access to backstage footage on his old tours?  Do vinyl records make you feel more connected than an mp3?  Is an autograph or meet-and-greet worth more?  How much more?  What’s that connection worth?  How do musicians put a price on it?  Arguably the strongest connection has to be a live performance shared between the musician and fan.  That is worth something.  For a musician to agree to play for free in a for-profit festival or concert venue is to devalue this unique experience.

As an artist in this time of direct communication to my fans, I want to hear from you.  What do you want from me as an artist?  What will you pay for?  What will help you connect with me in the current supply chain for music?   What are your demands in the music culture?  Perhaps now more than ever in history, artists can meet your demands. For years, musicians have forfeited creative control to a third party in exchange for distribution.  Now we don’t have to do that anymore, and one of the things we can do now that we couldn’t do before is…

share creative control with our fans.

That blows my mind.

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New Album. Now what?

Click to Buy

So here I am, a singer-songwriter in Houston, TX with a respectable local following and a shiny new album.  What’s next?  Well…

1) Submit album in its various formats to as many music writers as possible for review and hope they care to review the album…favorably.

2)Book a sweet tour

3) Tour

4) Generate tons of online content for fans to enjoy (during steps 1,2,3, & 5)

5) Record another album, rinse and repeat

As an independent musician one month post album release, the majority of my time is spent sending out emails for booking shows and getting the album reviewed, 90% of which never get a response or tell me no.  It’s like applying for a job online.  It’s frustrating, but as they say in the Godfather: “This is the business we’ve chosen.”

The fact is, I’m making progress, it’s just not happening at the speed I want it to happen.  You finish an album and you want to be on the road with it because you’ve been in your hometown working on it and dreaming about taking it on the road, but it’s your first album, no one knows you, and it’s your job to find a way to book shows out of state.  It will be months before touring can begin, and even longer before you start to play venues out of state that are worth the drive.  You’ve spent all your money from working two jobs on recording this album, and now you have no money to tour.  But you need money to tour, so you spend several months saving up more money, and before you know it, your album is 6 months old.  Sucks, right?  Oh, and the product you’re selling is available for free somewhere online thanks to someone else.  Or maybe thanks to you.  You can give away your record for free from your web site.  It’s just a teaser for the live show nowadays, it’s an advertisement.  People love free stuff and you’re not in this for the money anyway.

But you need money to tour…

So make some money with your day job, maybe even get a second job again for a while, and just focus on what you want.

Here’s what I want:

a good, well produced album thank you SugarHill for being awesome and in Houston, TX

a publicist thank you Monica Danna.


a booking agent

a tour manager

So let’s talk.


My two projects:

Runaway Sun – Four piece band.  We’re able to cram all of our gear and ourselves into a Dodge Grand Caravan.  How do we know this?  We rented one once for our trip to Mobile and Pensacola, and it worked out.

Solo Project – to reproduce the album’s feel on the road, we need to pack acoustic guitar, cello, violin, upright bass, drums, pedal steel, and the 6 people who play these fragile, unwieldy instruments.  Requirements: probably a 15-passenger van and a modest trailer.

Renting a van costs about $100/day.  Buying a decent van will be around $3000.  A trailer will cost about $600.  You can’t pull a trailer on a rental van, so you have to buy the van.  Total Cost: $3600


When you say booking agent, do you mean citywide, statewide, nationwide?  I mean statewide and nationwide.  I want someone who knows people at quality venues, venues that will put up the posters you send to them, venues people check on in city’s equivalent of the Houston Press, venues with a demographic interested in my kind of music.  I’m not trying to conquer the world, I’m trying to play shows at quality venues in front of people who will enjoy them.  Booking agents want to see a track record of quality shows that you booked on your own, just like festivals.  How often do you book a quality show out of state without a booking agent?  Not often.  This is what we call a catch-22.  Oh well.  Don’t give up.  Giving up means no shows at all.


This is the last stop in the chain- being able to hire someone to help you manage your tour!

So what do I need to do?  I need to buy a van and a trailer, play a bunch of so-so shows until the big ones come along, continue to pour all of my waiter money into repairing the van, and keep on emailing booking agents with my list of latest and greatest achievements.


This stuff takes time, so don’t get discouraged.  When a booking agent takes you on, it’ll be after you’re a self-made experienced badass.  Maybe you’re playing songs in New York that were released a year ago for the first time, and written four years ago.  It doesn’t matter.  Focus on writing timeless music, songs that people will want to hear again and again, and do not give away your whole album.  Let them go through the trouble of finding it for free somewhere online, let them steal it, but don’t devalue it yourself.


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Meant for the Stage: My Solo Album Release Party

On the last day of my freshman year at Lee High School in Midland,TX, my theater teacher Mr. Bustilloz told me that I was meant for the stage, and whatever I ended up doing in my life as a career, he hoped that I would find time to be up there in some way. Well, Mr. B, I’m giving it my best shot. This one’s for you:

poster by Jason McElweenie

My new album, Film Noir marks my debut as a solo performer, and I’m proud of it, not just the finished product, but the journey. It involved working two jobs for six months to finance the album correctly, scouting musicians for violin, mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, upright bass, percussion and cello, 14+ sessions at SugarHill Studios and Essential Sound with recording, mixing and mastering, and a little of help from my friends. A lot of help, actually.

One of my friends is bassist Justus Brake, a huge bearded guy I met in college up in Cleveland, OH. He brought me to my first open mic night. He’s flying down here from Cleveland to play bass at the show, and he’s really good.

Another great friend of mine is Monica Danna.  She’s seen me play more times than anyone, and we even hijacked her mom’s new SUV to trek 65 hours round trip for Runaway Sun’s NYC shows, and we’re STILL friends!

I’ve wrapped my mind around the conundrum that is the music industry with JR Cohen more times than anyone, and not once has he told me to put a sock in it.  Cheers, Bubba! #SLGT

photo by Erin Nies

Chris Longwood (my right), Sound Engineer at the best recording studio around,  SugarHill. Many years and many records to come, Chris! Marshall West, funniest guy I know and drummer on the album and for Runaway Sun.  Brian del Castillo, bassist for Runaway Sun and the guy with me in the booking trenches.  Photo by Everett Taasevigen, the rad dude who shot my album cover!  Bravo Everett!

A big thanks to Gina Miller at SugarHill for making this record happen, and for helping me become GRAMMY eligible!

photo by Bob MacCready

Last but not least, Maggie McDonald, who bought an eight hour block of recording time at SugarHill in a charity auction and gave it to me as a birthday present.  No kidding, she’s that nice:

photo by Gwen Bell

There are more people to thank, and I will do my best to thank everyone at the release party.  Join me with a cast of top notch musicians that includes:

Dominika Dancewicz – violin

Justus Brake, Zero Anataman – upright bass

Val Young – cello

Marshall West – drums

Bart Maloney – pedal steel

We will perform the entire solo album, Runaway Sun will cap off the evening, and you’ll walk away with a copy of Film Noir.  What could be better than that?



photo by Paul Galland

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Runaway Sun in NYC

Drove from Nashville to Charlotte, passing through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Definitely the best part of the drive. After a little research I found out that it’s known as “America’s Favorite Drive.” No show in Charlotte, just dinner with friends Bob and Laurie, and a lullaby for their two kiddos.

Pulled into DC around 1pm after an uneventful 6.5-hour drive from Charlotte. Here come the pedestrians! Sightseeing pedestrians. Pedestrians who stop to take pictures in the middle of the road. Made for some stressful driving, but half the time I wanted to see what they were pointing at anyway. “Don’t hit that pedestrian while checking out the White House…”
Arrived at The Red and The Black at 5pm to load in and get out of traffic. Transitional neighborhood with an obliterated street in front of the venue, littered with orange barrels, but a great room, hardwood floors with tin walls/ceiling, 1-foot stage and a bar in the back. Video coming soon:
Also on the bill were Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned, and headliner YARN from Brooklyn. I really liked YARN, would be fun to tour with them since they’re playing a lot of the same instruments found on my solo album.

New York bound to meet up with the boys from Runaway Sun! Arrived around 1pm after driving through Baltimore, Phily, and Trenton (it’s amazing how close together these states are). Monica slept through Delaware. “I’m in Delaware…”
Stayed with my childhood friend Matt Pace (DJ Mr Nice Guy) at his modern Williamsburg apartment. We were about a foot shorter and beardless the last time we hung out, but some things never change.
3pm, we arrived at Best Buy in Union Square. Oh the traffic. Oh the humanity. Monica dropped us off in front, possible only because of some episode with an ambulance and police cars holding up traffic. Best Buy was huge and bustling. The stage is in the middle of the music store section, which Best Buy introduced in 2008 and carries a selection competitive with Guitar Center. Rob Corddry from Hot Tub Time Machine was in the audience. I love in-store performances. Cactus Music, Best Buy, it doesn’t matter, they’re fun. One second people are browsing and the next they’re your audience. It’s great. Andrew W.K. talked about how much he enjoys their awkwardness in one of his interviews, and I believe it, they must get more delightfully awkward when you’re famous and people come to see you perform and get your autograph right after buying your album. Musicians are salesmen for their album, but when you play an in-store it takes the pressure off the salesman role since people are there to buy stuff anyway. If they like your show, they’ll buy the album. Here’s a video that Monica snapped of us on my Nano:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

We arrived at Arlene’s Grocery at 7pm to load in. They boast the best and most extensive backline equipment in NYC, and it ain’t no lie. The most famous person to play Arlene’s to date is Lady Gaga, but they’ve also seen the likes of R.E.M., Dashboard Confessional, The Strokes, and Jeff Buckley. Live recording of the show coming soon. The bartender at Arlene’s told me that places like his are a dying breed due to skyrocketing rent in NYC. The main room is about the size of Houston’s Continental Club. We had a strong turnout, and we took the stage with something to prove. New York City! It’s rough here, right? People will boo you off the stage if you’re not excellent, right?
Neil Diamond has said, “You always know when you’re playing Texas,” and he’s right. NYC has nothing on a Houston audience, they pay attention up North way too easily. In the middle of the set, some guy yelled, “Take your shirt off!” Coming from Houston, I told him, “You have to earn it.”

After running into News on The March in Brooklyn and walking around Times Square and Central Park West, we headed over to Legion Bar in Brooklyn for our show. Show went very well, lots of family and friends showed up and we the other band had cancelled, so we played for three hours. Moby’s bass player Hagar Ben Ari was in the audience.

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Everybody Knows This is Nashville

Robert's Honkytonk

Monica and I made it to Nashville on Monday in twelve hours.  No shows booked here, but this is the place where deals are made, so Tuesday afternoon we hit the street (Music Row, that is) with my two albums.  Driving by Chrysalis Music Group, I spotted an open parking space for the Armada, so we stopped and got out.  What was I expecting to happen?  Exactly what happened.

“We can’t accept any unsolicited music.”

So I asked her who could solicit my songs to her, and she said, one of the performance rights organizations – ASCAP, SESAC, or BMI.

I’m an ASCAP member, so we got back in the Armada, drove down the block to ASCAP, and walked inside.

Come on in.

ASCAP – American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers

The receptionist told me that there was a Q & A opportunity with an ASCAP representative on Wednesday morning at 10pm.  Perfect.  Sign me up.

When I showed up, it was only myself and another songwriter.  This in itself was worth the twelve hour drive.  45 minutes of one on one time with a person capable of soliciting my songs to record companies and booking agents, and his office is walking distance to everyone from Chrysalis to Sony Music Group.  “If I like your stuff, I’ll knock on every door I can.”  There are no ASCAP offices in Texas, not even in Austin.  “There isn’t an infrastructure in Austin for the industry.”

You get the sense that they’ve heard all the stories, but they haven’t heard your songs.  I gave the representative background on both albums and got his card.  Today I’ll email him our press kits and thank him for his time.  The next time I’m in town, I’ll stop by ASCAP and talk to him again.  This doesn’t guarantee success by any means, but musicians need to be their own facilitators with their music.  Make it as easy as possible for member representatives of a performance rights organization to help you out.

Musicians are everywhere in Nashville, but they’re not unlike musicians in other cities.  Perhaps more educated with regard to music publishing since it’s a constant topic of conversation, but the game is the same.  You have to do things for yourself before a venue will book you or a publisher will knock on your door.

We enjoyed plenty of other attractions in Nashville- Honkkytonkin’ at Robert’s, Shepherd’s pie at The Family Wash, and I scored Neil Young’s “Everbody Knows This is Nowhere” on vinyl at The Groove record store.

The Groove

For more on Nashville, check out Monica’s post at

Next Stop: Charlotte, NC


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Graduation Day: The Big Apple

New York with a New t-shirt.

This week, I become a touring musician!  Runaway Sun was selected to play at the Live at Best Buy music series at Best Buy in Union Square, NYC, and the stars aligned for us in booking two quality shows  for a jam packed NYC weekend:

March 26th – 4pm – Runaway Sun, Live at Best Buy, Union Square

Midnight – Runaway Sun, Live at Arlene’s Grocery

March 27th – 9pm – Runaway Sun, Live at Legion Bar Brooklyn

Thanks to the strong support from our Houston fans at the last Continental Club show, we were able to buy plane tickets for Marshall, Daniel, and Brian, and put gas in the tank as Monica and I trek across the US to meet up with the band:

March 22nd –  Houston to Nashville

March 23rd – Day in Nashville

March 24th – Nashville to Charlotte

March 25th – Charlotte to Washington DC, show at The Red and The Black at 8pm:

March 26th – DC to NYC, pick up the band from JFK Airport.

Here’s a peek at the cover art for my new album, Film Noir:

More to come from Monica and I this week!  You can follow her exploits at


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Valentine’s Day – the song, the story

It was my senior year in college and I was in love.  Or was I?  

I had it all planned out.  A typical poor college student in snowy Cleveland, OH with a knack for cooking.  Valentine’s Day?  Too easy.  We would have dinner at my house, in my bedroom.  You see, the lamp I owned had two settings: bright, and dim.  Some soft music, some wine, a card table, a few roses from the grocery store, the lamp set to dim, and you have yourself a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for two.

 Dinner in my bedroom, lights down low

The city is freezing, asleep in the snow

But we’ve got each other, and a bottle of wine

And all of the answers to all of the signs

That was four years ago, and it still holds the title for my favorite Valentine’s Day of all time.  It was so good that I wrote a song about it a year after it happened on Valentine’s Day.  I released that song today for free on 

It captures that time in my life.  In love, second semester of senior year, knowing that I would be moving to Texas after graduation and that my girlfriend wouldn’t be.  We both knew it wasn’t going to work out, or did we?  Could we have made it work?  Did we care to?  No, we didn’t.  We were more scared of trying to force something than to force it.  We were scared that we would miss out on personal growth.  We didn’t want to be tied down.  But we still held on for as long as we could.  I know a lot of people do this, and I don’t know why, but since we do it, why not write a song about it?  Why not write about it period?

What do you think that we should do

’bout this little thing called me and you?

Pack up the car and head out west

’cause I know better

But you know best

I guess, I guess, I guess…

I’ve had quiet dinners with other women since then, some more memorable than others.  I think this one sticks out for me so much because it really marked the beginning of the end of that relationship.  And the end didn’t feel good at all.  The thing I like though is that I can remember days like Valentine’s Day 2006 and feel good about them.  I feel very lucky to have music as an outlet, and I hope this song makes you feel good.  I hope you love it. And to that ex-girlfriend out there, I know I left out the part about your red lingerie in the song.  That was too personal to share.



A life of decisions, so much to find.

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Cello, Kitty! Solo Album Session 4 at “The Clark Gable House”


Val Young

Last night was a collision of two first impressions.  

I remember the first time I heard Val Young play cello, well over a year ago on an open mic night at Avant Garden, a cozy neighborhood venue in Midtown Houston.  It was the first time I had ever seen/heard a cello played live outside of an orchestra, and I couldn’t get enough of it.  Val and I talked after I played a few songs, and she liked my stuff.  That’s really all it takes with music: nice, talented people who like each other’s playing.  If you have that, the rest falls into place.

The other first impression was much more recent:  walking into Houston Press web editor Katharine Shilcutt’s current residence, a place where Clark Gable lived for a few years in the 1920’s.   Slideshow here:

When I came through the door for the first time, I got the vibe that I was in a recording studio.  It felt like some secret, magic house.  I asked Katharine if we could record there.  “Of course!”

Last night, Val,  sound engineer Chris Longwood and I grabbed our gear and headed over to record cello in the land of Clark Gable.  As promised, Katharine “got the dead guy out of the fireplace” before we arrived, ha.  Thanks, Katharine.  We walked in. Chris and Val immediately loved the place: vaulted ceiling, thick hardwood floors, dim lighting, a neighborhood kitty cat who comes and goes, and that magic feeling.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.

Chris Longwood, setting up the mic

 The first song we worked on was The Ballad of Marylou.  Val and I had jammed this song once before at Avant Garden shortly after that first meeting over a year ago, and after that we were both set on recording it one day.  It made its first appearance without cello on the November 2008 Runaway Sun EP, and I’m really excited at how Val, Chris and I are reworking it.  It’s  One of those songs that falls somewhere in between what I write with the band and what I’m putting my name on as a solo project, and last night confirmed our conviction that a stringed version was necessary.   Here’s a video clip of us working out a phrase:

I could go on and on, but I’ll close with this age old piece of advice: trust your instincts.  If you have a great feeling about something, pursue it and satisfy your curiosity.  The pursuit is always fun no matter what happens, and if it turns into an overall success rather than a failure, that’s just icing on the proverbial cake.  

Thank you to Katharine Shilcutt for letting a bunch of musicians invade your home!  Read her food and restauarant reviews at
 and follow her on twitter @she_eats




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Solo Album Session 3 at SugarHill Studios: Nick Gaitan, Marshall West

from left: Marshall West, Nick Gaitan, me, Chris Longwood

On November 20th, I was back in Studio A for another recording session at SugarHill, but this time with company.   Nick Gaitan of The Umbrella Man and touring bassist for Billy Joe Shaver came in to record upright bass and Marshall West of our band Runaway Sun laid down the drums.  Chris went all out, we had an array of microphones all over the room for the drums, which should make for some really fun options during the mixing process.  The upright bass was cut in the control room, and I had a front row seat. 

The original plan was to record the drums and bass together over my pre-recorded guitar and vocal parts.  This worked for some of the songs, but songs like Film Noir and All the Whales in the Ocean lacked the energy i was going for (my previous takes were not tight enough on guitar), so we ended up starting over.  Marshall played along with me, then Nick tracked over our take, and the result was a much tighter feel.  It’s never fun to hear the playback and realize you have to start from scratch to get it right, but once again, you have to be honest with yourself in the studio.  If it doesn’t sound right, it isn’t. 

I can’t say enough good things about Chris, Nick, and Marshall.  These guys know what every kind of song needs, they love kicking around ideas and take direction well. 

The way I like to work:   

1)Give the session player (or bandmate) an idea of the feel you’re going for

2)Let the session player do their thing

3)Critique what they did – “I like this, less here, more there, take that note out, try something like this.”  Everyone was involved in this part.

4)Next take

5)Listen back, Critique again.

n)Sounds great, next song.

What typically happens is that the session player will play something that blows me away and/or triggers a cooler, more complete idea for the song on the first take than what I originally had in mind.  I try to think of instruments in the most basic way they could complement a song, and then the nuances are left up to the player.  If they say they can get a better take or want to try it again, we do it again.    

This was the most exciting recording session yet for the solo album, because I got to hear drums and bass together on some of these songs for the very first time, and the four of us shared a really benevolent energy toward crafting the tracks.  A large part of this was the Thanksgiving dinner SugarHill had going on that day, which made for one hell of a lunch break.

Check out Nick Gaitan’s band, The Umbrella Man:

and Marshall West’s drumming with Runaway Sun:

SugarHill Studios:



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