Song of the Week #10 (9/19/12)

Song of the Week #10

Early this summer my sister asked me to write a song for the first dance at her wedding. I can’t tell you how excited I was. During a layover in Pittsburgh in June for about 6 hours, I took a shuttle downtown with my guitar and ended up writing most of the song, “I Feel So Lucky,” while sitting on a park bench between a couple of office buildings. (I had thrown my guitar case down sloppily in front of me and one of the security guys ended up asking me to leave thinking I was panhandling!)

My brother, Ryan, plays lead guitar in the video below along with Eric Davis, friend of the groom who also plays with About A Girl in Atlanta, and my cousin, Michelle Stevens. A few members of the band, Shimmer, also join us – Jay, Pearcy and Joe. Ryan and I did rehearsals piecemeal throughout the week prior to the wedding with each of the players. The performance was the only time we all played the song together. Enjoy the flashing cowboy hats!

“I Feel So Lucky”

Adiós Tahoe / Dancing in the Rain

Lake Tahoe

The lake itself

Backyard in Truckee

Backyard in Truckee

Adiós Tahoe

Tomorrow morning I will begin my 3-day trek back to Chicago. I’ve spent the past 48 days in California blogging and writing and recording new song ideas. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to dedicate so many hours in a day to writing, recording and simply thinking about music. It has truly been revolutionary and has given me a direction in my writing that I feel very good about.


An old friend gave me a book several years ago, which I feel contains oceans of wisdom, called Letters to a Young Poet. The book features letters from poet Rainer Maria Rilke to an aspiring artist.

One of the passages reads as follows:

“You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself.”

When I first read this I felt I had found my bible. I believe in his advice so firmly, which is why I came here – to California, to the woods, to solitude – looking for answers.

“Then draw near to Nature. Then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose.”

On the next page, Rilke continues his first letter with my favorite passage of the book. He writes:

“Therefore, my dear sir, I know no advice for you save this: to go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.

For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.

I love that last line. No one can find your voice for you, no one can tell you what your song sounds like. We’re all naked and alone in that sense. Writing is a great and scary adventure. Will I find it? Will I know that I’ve found it? Am I copying? Is the shore invisible? Will anyone ever want to listen to this?

I felt so much doubt while touring and being out there on my own. But I did dive deep into myself and find something that I like. I don’t know that there could be a more valuable product of this summer. I feel that I have learned/grown/achieved more in the past 2 months than I had in the previous 2-3 years while working a full-time job. I feel obnoxious writing those words but I actually wonder if they are an understatement. Maybe 4 years…?


Salt Flats

Utah Salt Flats

Salt Flats

Future Tumbleweed

The ride home is pretty quick, machine-like and uneventful with quick stops at the University of Wyoming (got a sweet hat with their cowboy logo, which I love) and a beautiful state park near Council Bluffs, Iowa (camping out with the geese). My greatest disappointment about the actual ride back is that I went through Utah at night. The salt flats near the border of Nevada are one of the coolest, most ridiculous topographic features that I’ve seen on the planet. I absolutely love them. They’re mesmerizing.

Dancing in the Rain

About A Girl at the Bucktown Arts Fest


About A Girl had played the Bucktown Arts Fest a few years ago. Rob Brookman, curator of the music aspect of the fest, was nice enough to invite us back this year. While I was out in California, I contemplated dropping the band out of the fest so that I could spend an additional month (being a hermit in the woods and) writing. Big thanks to Rob for being patient with me. In the end, I decided it would do me and the band much more good to play the fest.

I quickly threw together a set list made almost completely of the new songs that I had written out West, then finished lyrics, made demos, wrote out sheet music, etc. so that we would actually be able to pull off all of the new material. I set up the living room in Truckee with the exact equipment – pedals, amps, vocal effects, etc. – I would use at the fest and rehearsed every day with the living room couches as my audience.

I set up the living room in Truckee with the exact equipment – pedals, amps, vocal effects, etc. – I would use at the fest and rehearsed every day with the living room couches as my audience.

I’m so damn glad I didn’t drop us out of this show. Having a performance to shoot for made the last 3 weeks in California extremely focused and productive. As I practiced the new stuff, I looked out “into the crowd” and imagined what it would feel like the night of the show. My visualizations always took place on a nice, warm late summer evening with a light breeze in the air. Particularly when I played the 7th song in the 10-song set, “Discovery,” a chill song in the midst of a relatively “hard” set for AAG, I imagined feeling a breeze across my face as I closed my eyes to passionately sing the chorus.

Upon arriving to Chicago, however, all I heard was rain, rain, rain. Numerous friends told me about the great weather they’d been having for the past week then followed up with: “Hope it doesn’t rain on Sunday,” “Supposed to rain on Sunday,” “Looks like it’s going to rain on Sunday,” etc…..


The rain started lightly the morning of the gig. I assured the band that the show would go on. We got to the venue to set up. While still tolerable, it was raining a bit harder and taking a big toll on the audience. By the time we started, it was a serious downpour, and the weather only got worse as the gig went on, reaching biblical proportions during our last two songs.


I looked around at the band during the last few songs. Despite being covered on the stage, most of our equipment was at least a little wet, but we all looked out to a crazy scene of people dancing around in the rain – some with ponchos and umbrellas, some without and completely soaked. Everybody in the band had a smile on their faces.

Most of our equipment was at least a little wet, but we all looked out to a crazy scene of people dancing around in the rain.

Gabriel drenched


While I was bummed that we didn’t get to showcase the new music for more people, the day – and the rain – reached a crescendo during the last song. A handful of people danced frenetically, all big, wet smiles, as cats and dogs and hippopotami fell from the sky! I loved it!

After the show, we loaded out as quickly as we could, which was never going to be quick enough in that weather. Before Marshall and James jumped in their car to leave, James took his shirt off and rang a bucket of water out. I was freezing and soaked when I got home. It took me most of the next day to dry out my equipment, my car, my wallet, etc.!

The show only confirmed everything I was feeling about the new music: this is the way forward. Things did not turn out as planned, but there still is quite a lot of joy in the world.

Song of the Week #2 (7/25/12)

Song of the Week, No. 2

This week’s Song of the Week installment, “Saturday,” is an unmixed/unmastered version of a song that will be released next month on the album, twoheartstwo. The song is a late-night, post-going out musing about the people close to us and whether or not we’ve communicated our true feelings to them.


Song of the Week #1 (7/18/12)

Song of the Week, No. 1

I am starting this Song of the Week (SOTW) series off with a silly double-shot. I confess to having done a good bit of online dating. While I consider myself a very good looking man, I decided to whip up a song for a woman I thought was particularly special in order to increase my chances of getting a date. I wrote something based on info I had pulled from her profile and sent it to her in my first email:


She was hilarious. Her response was that “2” was much too easy a word to rhyme with, so she asked me what I would have written if her handle had been “orange.” Ha. So, I whipped up another song for her. Here’s that one:


I knew this was all quite a gamble, but I didn’t care. If nothing more, I would have some fun writing a couple of songs. In the end, that’s all it was, as we went on only one date. No real-life chemistry. Alas.

Tour, Day 32 – Seattle Practice Space

Back to the Music

Seattle Practice Space

I think that’s Bob Marley on the back wall

Two of my goals for this tour were to become a better performer and to get a sense for how compelling my music is. I have absolutely been able to learn a lot in both of these areas. One of the challenges, however, due to so much driving and cramming so many shows into such a short time, has been putting what I’ve learned into practice. For weeks, I’ve wanted to lock myself in a room and make some revisions to how I’m playing some of the songs that I think are strong, add in some new songs and try new instruments and arrangements. As I drove through Oregon and Washington, I made calls to several band rehearsal studios in Seattle and finally found one that had a room free at a reasonable rate for a two-day rental. The prospect of actually being able to set up all of my equipment in one place got me very excited as I pulled into Seattle.

That said, the building was a complete shit hole, as many band rehearsal buildings are. It reminded me of a less clean version of the space my Radio Mango band mates and I shared at Superior Street Studios in Chicago, though the common areas in this building were much worse. My actual room was quite filthy and still had drum sticks jutting out of the walls in various places where the previous tenants had jammed them into the drywall (WTF?). The rooms weren’t sound-proofed so you could hear endless drum soloing coming from two rooms down adjacent hallways and you could hear – and feel – the sludge/black metal band on the other side of the floor bringing the hate full on.

Nonetheless, it was still great to be able to make my own noise. That first day I stayed there 12 hours straight. Since the tour began, I had worked harmonica into my repertoire. While in the space, I worked on incorporating the loop pedal I had recently bought, my keyboard and some electronic track sequencing. I hoped to use all of these in the final North American show in Vancouver on Sunday night. I also was able to write a new piano-based song titled, “Little Bird.” I’m very excited about it and will post it to the site as soon as I make a demo.

Ultimate FrisbeeThat night, I got to hang out with a college friend, Cam Caldwell, who has been living in Seattle for about 6 years. I hadn’t seen Cam in 10 years or so. He happened to also be at the wedding in Maui, so we ended up seeing each other twice in one week after such a long hiatus. I had a few beers with him and his friends next to a fire pit in one of his friend’s backyards, which was great. Chilly at night here, even in the summer. We talked a bunch about the weather – how the eastern half of Washington is hot and dry almost all the time while the western half is cool and wet – and ultimate frisbee, which they all played together. They told me about some big UF tournament, where a team played quasi-naked. I have to go to one of these events sometimes. The people that play UF seriously sound half-bent.