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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Breast Cancer Awareness Show

Please join me and the fellas from Runaway Sun for our first Breast Cancer Awareness Concert at Avant Garden!  All proceeds will benefit the Sara Sullivan Foundation.  For more information on Sara Sullivan, visit

She was a very giving person, and we hope to honor this sense of giving with our concert.

See you there!



Avant Garden

411 Westheimer

Houston, TX 77006


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A Conversation with Jandek, “Sterling Smith”

Andrew and Jandek

The following post conveys all of the ideas I can recall from my half-hour conversation with Jandek at Block 7 Wine Co. on Nov 8th 2009. Photo by Monica Danna


“How did you like playing at Diverseworks?”

 The gaunt man dressed in business casual on the patron side of the bar gave me, waiter, a curious look over.  He looked me in the eye and saw the question he had heard.  He looked down, laughed, and raised his beer to me.  “I never would have thought-”

 I smiled.  I was right.  The man sitting in front of me was Jandek.

 “It’s nice.  Tiered seating.  120 people.”

 “I’m thinking of doing a show there,” I said.  “I like the idea of doing shows in a theater like that- the audience would be quieter, you can control the environment a little more.  Good for acoustic/strings music.”

 “Yes, people listen.”

 “You did that show at Rudyard’s too.”

 “Those are the only two places I’ll play in Houston- Rudyard’s and Diverseworks.”

 I told him about my plans for the solo album – cello, violin, upright bass, mandolin, violin, banjo, percussion, acoustic guitar

 “ Where are you recording?”

“At SugarHill.  Have you recorded there?  I know that Dan Workman played with you at the Diverseworks show.”

“I haven’t recorded there, but I’ve mixed a lot of albums there with Andy Bradley, worked with him back when he was at ACA too.  Those are big arrangements you’re working on.”

 “Yeah it’s driving me crazy but I think it will sound great in the end.  Taking some time, though.  I got this job to help pay for it along with my other job in the med center.”

 “What do you do in the med center?”

 “I’m a research assistant.”

 “That’s good.”

 “I feel like I have three different lives, though- here, there, and music.”

 “It’s okay to have many lives.  It’s good.  I’ve always had a few myself.”

 “Do you like writing with other musicians in the room or writing alone?”

 “The second.  Alone.”

 “That’s how I am too.  I’m really open to writing collectively with the band, but I get most ideas when I’m on my own and then bring them to practice.  How many albums have you recorded?”

 “Sixty one.”

 “Sixty one albums.  How many songs per album?”

 “Ten, on average.”

 “I’ve written seventy five or so songs, but this solo album will only be my second full-length release.”

 “Seventy five?  That’s good.”

 “Thank you.  I don’t know where they come from, I just know that I can write them, and the ideas keep coming.  Sometimes I won’t write for a few months, but then I’ll get a bunch of ideas at once and end up with four or five in a week, and on and on.  I trust the process though and I’m okay with not knowing why or when I can do it.  Is that how it is for you?”

 “It’s a gift.  Songs just blow up. ” (big hand motion)

 “They do.  And it never gets dull.” 

 “It only gets dull if you’re bored.”

 “I’m never bored.”

 “What’s your name?”

 “Andrew Karnavas.”

 “Andrew, Sterling.” He extended his hand, and I shook it.  We have equally gigantic, awkward hands.

 “Do you play piano?” I asked.

 “Recently I practiced piano, ten sessions straight, one hour each.”

 “I’ve been trying to learn but have trouble with my left hand.  I broke my pinkie and ring finger in the past and they give me trouble.”

 “That’s NO excuse.  You can do anything you want.  There’s only trouble because YOU MAKE IT TROUBLE.”

 “I guess you’re right.   It’s a mental thing.”

 “DON’T THINK, just play.  So you broke two fingers?  So WHAT?  Then you have a way of playing that is unique to YOU.”

 “That’s an even better way to put it.”

 “I recorded with a guitar player who worked at a pressing plant.  He had all of his fingers on his picking hand except for his thumb and index finger sliced off in a pressing machine, and he was INCREDIBLE at guitar, an AMAZING player.”  Jandek was leaning toward me over the bar counter. “YOU CAN  DO ANYTHING YOU WANT.  Fuck the world.”

 I laughed at his intensity because it hit close to home, then said,“I get what you mean, there are no limits.  I need to practice more though.”

 “Practice is stupid.  Well, not stupid, it has its place.  I’m more of an off-the-cuff kind of guy.”

 “What about touring?  Where do you like to go in the US?  I’m about to go on tour with my band Runaway Sun in February.”

 “Where?  The South?  Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia…”

 “Yes, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.”

 “You going to Mobile?”

 “We were planning on it, yes.”

 “I like Mobile.  It’s a great town.  Beautiful place.”

 “Any venues you recommend there?”

 He shrugged his shoulders.

 “Just go there.”

 “Do you have any shows coming up?”

 “Baltimore this month.  I’m playing in Lisbon January 23rd.”

 “My birthday is January 21st, need an opener?”

 He laughed, but never answered my question.   Monica talked to him for a much longer period of time, but wow, plenty of  lessons/validated convictions in this conversation:

 1)      There are no rules.  You can play any instrument any way you want.  You can do anything you want.

2)      Songwriting is out of our control.  The songs will show up whenever they want, just keep the door open.

3)      I’m off to a good start, and yes, the musical arrangements I’m working out for the solo should be driving me nuts.

4)      It’s okay to have other lives.  Don’t let the dayjobs/any awkward fitting hats you wear get you down or ever stop you from making music.

5)      I’m not the only one with creepy spider fingers.

 Sweet relief.  To talk to a man who has spent a lifetime writing music, has had many lives, and to hear that it’s okay.  It’s one thing to get the okay from people who don’t write music because we musicians can play the “you’re not a musician, you don’t understand” card, but we all know that’s not true.  Non-musicians have other things they spend a lifetime doing that matter to them as much as music to a musician.  But as a musician,  to hear it from a guy in his sixties who has written sixty one albums (with number sixty two on the way) and performed all over the world, it’s like getting a sneak peek at the deep end and realizing that not only is it endless, but it’s a place of benevolence.  Discouragement doesn’t exist!  There is a beautiful struggle, but no need for discouragement.  Will I write 61 albums worth of music in my lifetime?  Who knows.  What I do know is that we write songs because we enjoy writing them and we can’t help but do it, and while we’re in the neighborhood, we do our best to make them sound their best, with all the instruments they need (or don’t need).

 And so I ask you, what do you love to do?  Do you do it every day?  You should. 

Many lives and many dreams,



For more on Jandek, visit:


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Solo Album Session 2 at SugarHill Studios

After a sold out album release party with Runaway Sun at The Continental Club in Houston (, with The Bridge LP in the can and our new web site almost ready for launch/tour plans under way, I found some time to make my way back home to SugarHill Studios for my second solo album recording session.

My first session and the Runaway Sun sessions were done in Studio A, but for my second session I opted for Studio B.  Every room in the recording studio has a different feel, and Studio B felt right for what we were getting into, namely songs that will be strictly acoustic and vocals.
Chris Longwood is once again the engineer, he did such a great job with the Runaway Sun album and half the fun of recording the solo project is that I’m playing songs he hasn’t heard before.  Gina Miller, friend and marketing director for SugarHill, also sat in on the session and took these photos.
I record at a really fast pace.  My rules for the studio are:
1) Go in prepared (well practiced, set list written out with notes)
2) Be honest (if there is anything about the take that doesn’t feel right as it’s happening, stop, start over)
3) Be bold (try new things at the risk of ruining a take) 
4) Wear comfy clothes that don’t make a lot of noise
In the first session, I recorded sixteen guitar/vocal tracks in six hours, and this second one I did ten guitar/vocal tracks in four hours.  I’m now at the point where I have the takes I want for the guitar and vocals, and we’re ready to proceed with recording the other instruments.  There are ten songs with a range of instrumentation – cello, violin, upright bass, mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, and drums/percussion, and a bunch of songs that are only acoustic guitar/vocals. 

Vocal takes. I love this microphone.

 For more information on SugarHill Studios, visit

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I met Jack White today.

Sunday, October 4th 2009.  Austin, TX

We were looking for Mucinex and shoes.  

My sister had a cold, or allergies, or whatever causes the need for Mucinex.  CVS looked promising, so we stopped.  She also wanted a pair of shoes, something that would survive the mud pit known as Zilker Park, host of the ACL Music Festival.  CVS didn’t have any shoes (no knock-off Crocs).

“I’m going to Buffalo Exchange across the street to find shoes.  I didn’t want to wear knock-off Crocs anyway.

 Rather than watch my sister agonize over shoes, I headed two stores down into Antone’s Records.  

I walked in, no one else in the store besides the clerk, and some old blues record was playing, and it reminded me of this part in “It Might Get Loud” where Jack White talks about his favorite song, this old blues song by Son House, a song about a man in a world of pain. I thought Jack White would like Antone’s.

The first thing I do in any record store is head to the Neil Young section.  Finally, I found Harvest.

“We don’t have these very long,” the clerk said, a girl my age.

I walked out.  Then it happened.

 His back was turned to me, but the scarecrow black hair, the long-sleeved black shirt, and the rest of The Dead Weather standing around a big white van in the parking lot were enough clues for me to conclude that the man in front of me was…

Jack White.

He turned around and looked right at me on his way into the store.

“I’m really looking forward to your set today,” I said.

“Thanks.” (Jack White pauses, extends hand, I shake it)

“And the movie was really good.”

(Jack White raises his eyebrows, smiles and walks through the door)

The door closed, and I walked over to Buffalo Exchange to find my sister was at the front of a long line with a nice pair of shoes.  I didn’t notice the shoes at the time, I just walked up and said, “I just met Jack White over at Antone’s.”


“I met Jack White today” was a phrase I uttered once every half hour or so for the rest of the day.  Watching The Dead Weather perform five hours later, I thought, “there’s Jack White, and I met him today.”  

I stood in the crowd, and people all around me talked about how talented he was.  

“I met him today.  He’s a nice guy.”

I didn’t get a picture with him or run back in the store and buy a Dead Weather album and ask the band for autographs.  I didn’t ask Jack White for recommendations in the blues section, and no,  I didn’t give him a Runaway Sun sticker or invite him to our album release party- which is this Saturday, by the way, at


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