Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Making of So Long

I remember in the mid 90's graduating college and being obsessed with getting my first street bike.  I had always had dirt bikes when I was a kid and couldn't wait to get my little Sportster.  I loved the freedom of the road and being alone on the weekends.  I had a good job, a nice apartment in New Orleans and was living the single life.  I think it took about 6 months to wear off on me.  I knew this life wasn't going to be for me.  I began to read a lot and research things and started saving my money.  I sold my bike and and my grand piano and starting setting my eyes on acting school in NY.  I was getting jobs as an actor and didn't have a clue what I was doing, so I faked my way into Stella Adler Conservatory and was on my way.  

I remember taking this photo with me.  It's my mom (baby) and Jerry, who was my grandmothers cook and house keeper.  We were like family and I knew her grand kids and such.  Of course I never realized the complexity of the situation as a kid.  The picture always reminded me of my grand mother and her selfless ways and the things she did in the community.  

After a year of acting school, they cut our class of 32 students down to 16 for the second year and before summer I had a meeting with Tom Openheim the director and he said we love you and want you to come back for year two but you have to put your music aside.  I had all summer to work on music ideas and explore options.  
I convinced Donovan Guidry to move to the city from New Orleans and we lived together in a studio apartment for the summer.  I used to send him music ideas and record them on his home voice mail and when he got to the city we began to explore ideas.  One day he started beating on the coffee table and then next thing you know he started taking drum lessons.  He quickly realized he didn't want to be a drummer and then we got an MPC 2000 drum machine.  

Seth Gold and I spent many days together before Donovan moved to the city.  Seth was an intellect and grew up with completely different experiences in Los Angles than what me and Donovan experienced and proved to balance us out just fine.  Seth was well read and was introducing me to books I'd never heard of and I began to devour them.  Between the two of us we found that we could write songs when we put our heads together.  Up until this point, I couldn't really write a song.  Seth was a very important part of So Long.  

Donovan and I would stay up late nights brainstorming what elements we wanted to put together for making a record.  At the time I was using a four track and a sequencer.  I took a few classes at the New School.  One was a recording class and one was a piano class.  They introduced me to the recording software that was just hitting the market and I couldn't believe the options that were becoming available to home recordist.  I ran home and told the guys what was happening in the class and was really excited about the possibilities.  We had no interest in working with the studio guys and their tried and true ideas.  Though we didn't know that much, we didn't want to work with the pros.   Every time we tried, all they would do is tell us we couldn't do the things we wanted to try.  

Donovan even took a film class at The New School and shot a video for the first version we did of the song Art.  I remember staying up all night trying to get a version of it done so we could shoot with it the next day.  In retrospect, it wasn't really necessary to have it completed but man was I possessed to get it done right.  Someone in Donovan's film class told him he was quite ambitious to make a red velvet suit for the kid in the video but that's just how we were.  Nothing was to be left unturned.  Everything would be done with care and even the stair well was going to be painted because I was planning on cooking gumbo for people who would be helping with the record.  I felt like everything was a representation of the record.  I was trying to communicate through every medium possible for the sound we were going after and if the lighting wasn't right, then we wouldn't achieve the sound.  Quite funny, but I had no musical language and everything counted.  

At the end of the summer, I decided that I'd indeed quit acting school to make a record.  It sounded crazy and didn't look right on paper either.  I remember calling my mom and telling her.  It had taken two years for them to see me as an actor and now I'm telling them I'm a musician.  I did feel ridiculous and small, especially walking into the east village music store where Lou Reed may drop in at anytime.  The guys that worked these stores were dicks and treated you like a tourist.  I bought a Rhodes keyboard and hauled it up 5 flights of stairs and just like that I had that Portishead sound I was after.  

The door pictured above is from our apartment in Williamsburg.  We needed more space to work and live and we found something on the south side.  In those days everyone wanted to live a few blocks off of the Bedford stop on the train and the south side was a 15 block walk and it was dirty with a lot of old warehouses.  Josh and Moses, our Hasidic landlords showed us the place and it was pretty rugged but we thought we could fix it up.  

Kevin was really helpful and talented.  He was a music engineer and helped us build a soundproof room and he was my consultant with anything to do with recording.  

This is me exhausted in our freshly painted apartment.  It was probably the last picture of me with hair.  I was about to get really militant and disciplined.  It was going to take every ounce of discipline I had to learn all the things I had to learn to make something we could be proud of.  So I shaved my head as a way to make a hard change from the person I used to be.  I would have to shed my small town insecurities and be the New York artist I had been prepared to become.  

This chair was special.  I sat in it to write and listen to dub and trip hop records I liked.  I bought a lot of records in those days for research.  I was always trying to figure out how to make those sounds.  It was amazing when our first song was finished in the studio.  It was Perique and when I was riding home on the train at 2 in the morning I fell asleep and ended up in Queens.  I was so happy to finally be inside the vision we had had so much trouble trying to get to with limited knowledge.  Good & Evil studio was so key in helping us achieve that Cajun Dub/Trip Hop sound.  

In these times, Donovan was waiting tables every night and he hated it.  Did I say he hated it?  I'd stay home every night in hopes of having a breakthrough musically.  One of my favorite things was waking him up the next day after a long night of inspired work.  We would allow ourselves about an hour of feeling good about it and then move on to more work.  

Times were getting tough and Don was getting frustrated.  Two and half years passed and we were still working on the record.  One obstacle after another but man we were resilient.  I remember having an argument in this room and getting in each others face and his face was red and he looked at me and screamed, "I want to win"!

Sports played a big part for us.  It was a release to step onto the court and feel like something.  I enjoyed my time with the kids on the street.  Every few nights I'd write my cousin Patti who had lost her arms and legs to meningitis.  Many years after So Long, I felt like it was a heavy record and found my letters to her after she had died and forgot that she was a big part of my resilience.  So Long took so long.  It was a lesson I'll never forget.  I've never worked so hard for anything ever in my life.  I wanted to somehow pen all the feelings I had through all the family tragedies, and then 911 in NY.  I felt like a floating island with no home but this record anchored me in a way and prepared me for anything to come.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

One Dead In The Attic

The year was 2005 and I had moved back to Louisiana yet again after my 2 year relationship with Atlantic Records came to an end.  The first time I moved back home was after 911 to find a studio space.  I was tired from three years of work on my first record "So Long" and was a little freaked out after watching buildings fall and being scared of anyone with a back pack on the subways.  But now in 2005, it was August and it was hot.  Close to a year had passed since I toured constantly playing festivals and trying to remain out of the spotlight somehow.  I was recording everyday in my studio in Gramercy, Louisiana just off of the river, usually into the wee hours of the morning.  

One morning I woke up and headed to the grocery store to pick up some milk when I noticed huge lines at the gas station and that's how i learned a storm was coming.  I'm sure I did what I always do, get some essentials and hunker down for the night and make music until I lose electricity.  

The next day there were lots of people stranded from their homes because they left at the last minute when they realized New Orleans was going to receive the worst of it.  My cousin and I turned a community center into a shelter for about 150 people and then the rest of the Parish trickled in to help out.  No one had electricity or TV and all we could hear was rumors that New Orleans was done.  The oak trees were under water and the city was destroyed and not coming back.  It was quite a pill to swallow as I played nightwatchman at the community center.  There was a lot of stress as many different races were in the same room night after night saying good night to each other.  I was peacemaker and comforter in those delicate hours right before bed.  

It was easy being there for people and being strong for them but the late nights alone were eating away at me.  Those stories in the Times Picayune every morning would stick with me.  I didn't know Chris Rose personally, but had read his work for years and now he was painting the craziest pictures ever.  I moved back home because of the culture.  I had been all over the country and nothing was like South Louisiana or New Orleans.  And now it was part of the gulf, to be long forgotten.  I tried to imagine being alone in a New Orleans house all boarded up with the sounds of guns going off just outside.  I could not imagine the horror that Chris was going through and was not surprised to hear years later that those writings became a best seller.  

Last year, I was asked to sing a few songs for PORT-New Orleans 10 year anniversary celebrating New Orleans' comeback.  I was excited to play on this night.  I had plenty of material for such feelings.  I lived through many family tragedy's, 911, Katrina and was a wolf waiting for his time to howl.  I knew Chris Rose was going to be there and in the back of my mind was a little concerned but let it go and howled nice and loud through the roofless building at the moon.  When he got up to the mic after me, he looked at me and said, "who the hell are you, and why don't I know you?"  It made me feel good to see the look on his face.  I knew my words and music were received and in that moment I felt value as a musician for the first time in New Orleans.  

Over the past year, Chris has come to a few shows and has become a big supporter of what I'm doing as I reenter the music business on my own terms.  I've been on his radio show several times and we just started doing duo shows where he reads from his writings and I set the mood with soundscapes and songs in between.  This has proven to be a good fit for my music and am fortunate to have found such a venue to sing in.  

"I want that Dustan vibe!  That one of kind, dirt low down echo chamber of howling rage and joyous rapture; that incandescent sunburst of melody, hope and rage, that organic acoustic interpretation of original sin and saving grace, that thing you do so well."  -Chris Rose

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Freak-A-Zoid Robots Please Report.......

In 1983, as a wee kid of 12 or so, I witnessed perfection and experienced a change in myself.  The local high school football team, Lutcher Bulldogs, had a new quarterback and he was black.  This was unprecedented at the time.  Roger Staubach, Danny White and John Elway were just some of the names  that came to mind when thinking of QB's.  But that changed quickly the first night I saw Terrence Jones.   

Sitting in the stands to the right of the press box with all the cool kids and my jam box and a Midnight Star tape, I witnessed poetry in motion.  There was definitely "No Parking" in the pocket.  When the defense got too close he'd wiggle his way out and before you know it, he was 40 yards down the field.  Danny White would have folded to the ground.  My dad, Danny Louque, worked the chains for the games and said when the receiver would catch the ball, there would be a loud thump because of how hard he threw the ball.  I'm assuming he was talking about Theron Maddie, or Laurence Felton.  That team made such an impression, I could probably name every position, even you "Chiz".

I could feel myself walking differently the next morning at football practice and would even throw the ball a little harder.  I was swaggering like TaTa before I even knew it.  I was beginning to let my imagination run like never before and learning how to express myself through sport and to rely on instinct.  This would prove to be a life long lesson long after leaving the ball far behind.

Every Friday for 14 weeks straight, I watched #10 become more and more confident in his own direction achieving perfection in the end.  After a great career at Tulane and a Heisman campaign, he played in the CFL.  The NFL wasn't ready for a black quarterback in those times.  In those times!   It's so disappointing and I'm sure it was for Terrence too.  I hope he is continuing to find his glory off of the field.  Joe DiMaggio said you never know who's watching you for the first time so play your best at all times.  I first learned this from watching #10 and think about him from time to time on the road.  When the well worn path appears in my direction, I juke it into the unknown.  Thanks Mr. Jones..."Electricity"!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Like Spinning A Web......

I played my first show since getting back to Louisiana on Saturday at The Saladino Gallery in Covington.  I love having a show on the North Shore.  We left early and enjoyed a rest and drink in the park right on the lake before going set up.  

We had worked hard during the week preparing a set that would complement Blake O'brien's work.  He had requested I play a Radiohead cover from their last record and something from The Smiths.  Needless to say the setlist leaned towards a more moody, and dark set.  For whatever reason, we struggled a bit to settle into the set and I think I got a little too into my head about the material I had chosen for the evening since there were kids and older folks hanging out.  

Then I let it go and drifted off into the music and forgot about the struggling.  For whatever reason, every night is different.  Same sound equipment, same sound guy (me) and same instruments but man things can feel funny at times.  Most of the time I know as soon as I sound check wether it's going to be a fight or an easy ride.  

On Sunday, we got up and had coffee and breakfast and wandered into the woods and noticed a huge spider spinning his web.  I think we sat there for a good 20 minutes watching all eight legs in perfect concert, weaving and spinning.  It was amazing how the spider didn't even look at each of his legs,  he just reacted to his surroundings combining the old web with his new one.  

Later Sunday night someone sent the video above to me.  At first when I saw it was a video, I remembered the struggle and didn't really want to watch it.  When I hit play, I heard something beautiful and saw my mind completely immersed with two hands in perfect symphony with each other, moving like the spider.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Thoughts from the road......

Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  I've felt these patterns before and maybe had brushes with insanity because of my obsession with detail.  The path I'm on now is hard to create patterns on, though after two years I'm already trying to. Every city, every show, they're all different.  They're all reactions to the environment.  They're the accumulations of all the miles of thought as the landscapes change.  It's an interesting thing to drive through the collective consciousness of America in 2016.  Even weirder is to turn on the TV in the hotel room and see what the political landscape looks like.  And even weirder are the talking heads on all the media channels.  We are really becoming robots.  If you mute the sound and just watch, it's quite numbing.  

And then there's beautiful people that come into your life.  They welcome you into their lives with open arms and make you feel like a contributor.  When kids sing your songs back to you, it's a beautiful feeling.  I always feel like my music is like slow food and feel like the attention spans are eroding and maybe I need some glowing lights and fireworks like the commercials on tv.  Speaking of, I just watched a few of the college football opening season games and they all looked like bowl games or the Super Bowl.  There was so much hoopla involved.  Maybe we can't help ourselves.  We are human after all and need to keep outdoing ourselves.  Too bad we can't make that ultimate decision to do better.  To stop and really look at history and forget about where we are now for a minute and rewind the clock to study the course of human history.  How about forget about striving to be smarter, how about striving to be wiser.  Not richer.  

Felt so bad for LSU the other night.  They lost the opening game.  Would have been a great uplifting thing for all the folks in Baton Rouge who had flooded homes.  But I have to say, I've stopped putting my hopes and dreams in other people.  There were times that those games could have ruined my whole fall but not anymore.  Speaking of insanity!  Every year, they run the same offensive plays and expect different results.  It's insane to place all your hopes of joy on that grass eating man.  

And then I found simplicity in the hills of Hiltons, Va.  It was so quiet as I walked on the Carter family property.  There was a tiny road with tobacco barns and tractors and people sitting on porches staring blankly as I passed by.  I couldn't believe Country music was founded here.  People are great man, that's all there is to it.  A.P. Carter was possessed by music and he had the will to get out in the world and find the songs.  Maybelle was a bad ass.  I saw her guitar and couldn't wait to get home to my old Gibson.  This little trip gave me confidence that music can come from anywhere.  Doesn't matter if you come from a little tiny lane with tobacco barns, tractors and people staring blankly.  

I think I decided I didn't need the bright lights.  Pretty soon darkness is going to be the new light anyway.  Isn't that right America?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Art of Breaking Down.....

As a Virgo, I'm always super prepared and organized.  When not on tour, I'm having repairs done on my van and tinkering with any problems that it may have.  After growing up with a machine shop in my back yard and seeing pump after pump come down the driveway to be repaired, I have grown to love the idea of maintenance.  These pumps would come in old, dirty and broken down with who knows what kind of chemical residue on them.  But one things for sure, they'd leave looking like new.    I'd watch the millwright work as if unfazed by the wreckage and continue to take his notes and measurements.  He'd always find the reason the pumps had failed and say something about the operators not caring about their jobs.  

At the time, I owned a 1967 Mercedes 300 SE and I began to view it the same as these old pumps coming in.  I was obsessed with taking care of it and keeping it working properly.  This idea has always been a part of my life, wether it was an old Huffy bike I sanded down and repainted or the 1972 VW Beetle I worked on every weekend as a kid.  

This practice has followed me on the road in my VW van.  It is the reason I can trek back and forth across the country without many problems.  It's silly to think that we don't have to pay close attention to our vehicles.  When people come talk to me, usually they ask how many miles are on it.  Like, how could you be doing this in a old van?  But what they don't know is how much care I put into keeping it running like the day it came off of the factory floor.  There's a lot of respect for the machine and it's many moving parts.  

However, there are days when things happen out of my control.  So far on this tour, I've made two trips to the mechanic.  One in Atlanta for a leaking coolant hose and then in the lovely Cape Cod after wading in the waters counting my blessings, I ended up on a tow truck and spending the night outside a shop awaiting the mechanics to show up on Monday morning.  

One thing about van life is it's always easy to get that sense of home no matter where you are.  In the parking lot that night, I was home.  Sure there were uncertainties but I ate a good meal, read a book and looked forward to finally getting to the bottom of my clutch issue.  I ended up needing a new flywheel and my sponsor, GoWesty, couldn't locate one in a rush so I had to find one on eBay.  The whole process of finding parts and talking to the mechanic became just another part of my tour.  

Because my tours are hosted by long time fans of my music, I end up staying in the homes of people who I only once knew from an email.  My breakdown in Cape Cod was embarrassing but it couldn't have happened at a better time with my tour schedule.  I'm staying in Jamestown, RI with the Krause family and have been here for well over a week.  It's going to be like two weeks total by the time I get out of here, but I have found a new set of friends.  Found a new family.  No one wants to make mistakes or have failures but today I'm thankful for my music career not working out like it was supposed to.  Every tour I go on starts to develop more and more and my network of friends is growing across the country.  My tour bus doesn't have a bathroom or a driver who leaves the AC running all day so the star doesn't sweat, but I do have a repair manual.