Howlin at the Home Stretch
“You should go ahead man, I’ve got a lotta stuff to pack up in that front row,” I murmur to Bill as we file out of the van. “Alright cool, I’ll see you tomorrow” he replies and disappears out of view. Near 1am outside a small Western Colorado hotel I get to enjoy the embrace of sweet solitude. No phone, no computer, no book, just deep breathing and an appreciation for the solace and relative seclusion. I lay my head back and turn my mind off. I begin to notice the call of an animal in the woods outside the van. It’s calming. A repetitive 6-note cycle split in a rapid three-pattern with a break between them. The melodic changes are minuscule but noticeable, and I start to key in on them. Two tones. High-low-high, rest, low-high-low. It’s as if this small (I think probably) insect is running an alternating rudiment back and forth. It reminds me of the “Single Stroke 4″, but with the first note ghosted. The more I think of it that way the more I start to hear the initial ghost note and wonder if this insect is teaching me something intentionally or as a by product of our collective existence. Either way, I understand its message of patience and subtlety.
We’re over six weeks through a seven week tour and considering the vast majority of alone-time we get is in the bathroom (we travel together, work together, and sleep in double rooms), this type of personal time can be sacred and centering.
I generally classify days on the road in three different ways: work days, drive days, and off days. They generally equate to the best days, the worst days, and the most memorable days. Work days are usually the most fun because we have the honor and luxury of being madly in love with everything that comes along playing our instruments, which is the core of our job (at least in theory). Drive days are usually the worst for obvious reasons (10+ hours in the van is enough to drive a man insane, plain and simple) but when morale is high they can be fun too. Off days are often the most memorable because we have the opportunity to enjoy wherever we are, whether that means we’re exploring new places or revisiting some of our favorites.
In this particular week we had some exceptionally memorable days off in the Bend, Oregon area before heading to some exciting shows in California. As a band, we used this time to re-charge our internal batteries, spend time with family, and enjoy our surroundings. A hike to the summit of the captivating Smith Rock was on the agenda first. I was floored. It was impressive in color, texture, and sheer size. The richness and variance in the shades and hues amazed me: deep dark reds, glowing purples, diamond-like glitters reflecting the river and impacting our perception of the rock surface. We passed rock-climbers scaling the face, rattlesnakes crossing our path at dusk, and a burning red sun that torched the sky as it set.
The next day was another off day and another opportunity to explore. Noah has a friend from his Vermont days who had recently moved out to Bend. He was beyond hospitable in offering to let us accompany him and two friends on a rafting trip on the Deschutes River. Ian, John, Noah, and I were the lucky tagalongs who had the pleasure of enjoying the Class 3 rapids known as Big Eddy. Luckily the other three men on the journey had far more experience and expertise than us. The area they took us to was an anomaly to me in the sense that the water was made mostly of snow-melt from surrounding mountains and the land was mostly made of dried lava rock. And although that makes all the sense in the world to archeologists, it felt funny to me. A place that was previously burning hot magma now flows effortlessly with what was previously snow, a reminder that to create natural beauty there’s always a balance to find.
After our rafting adventure we returned home to make dinner for our host, some Tex-Mex comfort food in the style of my hometown of Austin, TX: enchiladas in ranchero sauce with refried beans and rice. Having made the most of our off days in Bend we laughed, ate, and drank together before preparing to hit the road in the morning. The following three days were marked by fantastic shows in California including an outdoor concert series in wine country, a raging San Francisco club play (we played our last note near 4am), and a blast of an afternoon set at the San Jose Summer Jazz Festival.
We have a few busy and exciting days ahead of us before returning home to New Orleans: we open for Maceo Parker at the Fox Theater in Boulder on Thursday, then a short jump to Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver for Friday. We’ll have to drive through the night after the Denver gig for a show at the Outland Ballroom in Springfield, MO before we close the tour at the Darkening of the Sun Music Festival in Saint Clair, MO to celebrate the upcoming total solar eclipse. Keep us in your mind and on your stereo, and if you’re in any of the aforementioned places come say hi or feel free to reach out. After 6 and a half weeks, it’s time to sprint the last mile of this marathon.
On The Road
Damn we’ve really been taking this phrase “on the road” seriously recently. Since my last blog post about being in Southern California (two weeks ago now) we’ve hightailed it all the way East to Houston, TX (I-10 really feels like home at this point) and then North to Bellingham, WA where we currently reside in a cheap hotel room, excited for the chance to play outdoors in a beautiful natural environment about 20 miles from the border of Canada.
Speaking of playing outdoors in a beautiful natural environment, we had an incredible two days at the Huckleberry Jam at the Tamarack Resort in Idaho where we had the opportunity to ride bikes and jump in Lake Cascade with a 360 view of the mountains surrounding us. It was great to have a couple days in the same place after long drive days (8-12 hours) for three days in a row before that.
Although it’s been a lot of driving we’ve made time to play shows recently as well (after all we are on tour, not vacation…right?) and have been ecstatic to have Dexter Gilmore (frontman of Sexy Dex and the Fresh) covering a wide variety of vocal and additional instrumental parts from our new album “Identity.” His versatility as an artist and his uncanny ability to chill as hard as we do have been a PuRfect MatCH* for this stretch of the tour, and we look forward to building our collaborative relationship with him.
The shows have been overwhelmingly good and/or promising, and at least a blast to be playing (as always). Houston was a standout show, where we played with our friends in Handsomebeast and enjoyed Tex-Mex to our hearts’ content. Arizona treated us well, and Flagstaff was an unexpected banger, as we got a feature on the cover of “Flagstaff Live,” an alternative weekly newspaper in the area that brought an overflow of interested and engaged listeners to the small outdoor venue. Austin was a hoot for me, as I was able to see many old friends in a gorgeous city that happens to be my birthplace. In fact, I ran into the guitarist of the first band I was ever in, called “Three Hourz Sleep” which I started playing in while growing up a child in Austin. (I moved to Washington, DC at the age of 12 so we were the definition of a “kid band” at the time.) This was an absolute thrill for me, as I hadn’t seen Evan in years. We walked into the Parish and I was in my professional nice-guy mode: I groggily peeled myself off the seat of the van, walked to the stage and introduced myself to the two sound men out of habit; but as soon as I shook hands with Evan and said “Hi I’m Sam, I’l be playing…” his eyes lit up and he said “Yeah! Sam Shahin, right?!” I responded with “Evan Kaspar!!! Great to see you man!” A big hug and some catching up was in order. It was a pleasure both seeing and working with him, just showing you never know who you might run into on the road.
We look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones as we continue this road trip for the next few weeks. If you reside in, or you have friends/family in Washington, Oregon, or Northern California, please come by and say hi.
*PuRfect MatCh is an incredibly funky song by Sexy Dex and the Fresh. I love this band and this song, and highly recommend giving a listen to their material the next time you put music on. We’ve had the pleasure of playing PuRfect MatCh and yourgazm live recently, and it’s been a barrel of joy.
Taking a bite out of L.A.
“Is THIS my turn?” Bill asks from the driver’s seat. “No…ummm…na, not yet. But you’re in a good lane, the next right is gonna be you.” We stay idled at the red light as vehicles quickly fill the lanes on all sides of us before I realize I’m completely wrong. “Damnit man, it IS this right turn!” I exclaim before apologizing, “sorry dude, you want me to re-route you?” “No I’ll make it work” he says with a level head. I roll down the front passenger’s side window to our giant van (with trailer attached of course) and lean my head out, signaling to the truck behind us in the lane over that we’re gonna make a maneuver to get in front of him once the light turns green. He’s not having it. We’re not in the Southern “drive friendly” states anymore. Regardless, Bill angles his way into the lane and we make our right turn. A barrage of car horns ring out as we enter the on-ramp for Highway 1, just to be swallowed up by the sea of traffic and the sea of sights that is Los Angeles.
We were leaving LAX airport after picking up Sam Kuslan (aka KRU$H MONEY aka lil Papa), an extraordinary vocalist, pianist, and friend who we’re lucky to have joining us on two stretches of our expansive Western tour. After a long drive day from Santa Cruz, it was time to get to the hotel and get some sleep. Upon arising I had the urge to check out the natural environment of my surroundings. I did a google search for the closest trailhead to the hotel and got on my way. It was a beautiful walk that led my up the foothills above the San Gabriel valley and the views were magnificent. On one side the far-reaching suburbs faded into the Angeles National Forest, on the other you could see the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. and barely make out the figure of the Pacific Ocean through the smog and haze.
On this trail I met a native to the area (“I grew up on the other side of that foothill there” he pointed out to me on our hike) who came to be known as “trail friend” to the rest of the band very shortly. We continued on the hike together and he showed me some of the coolest overlooks on the trail and gave me great information about the ecosystem of the surrounding area. I asked him about some of his favorite places to eat near our hotel, and being that the town is called Hacienda Heights and my trail friend had told me that his family is of Mexican descent, my mouth was watering in expectation of homemade tamales, al pastor, and other exciting Mexican delicacies. To my surprise he told me, “around here you GOTTA eat the Chinese and Taiwanese food. It’s amazing. There is a higher population and concentration of native Chinese here than in Chinatown in L.A.” I asked him if he had any specific recommendations. His response, “Pick a province, it’s all there.”
Being that Los Angeles had already swallowed me whole with it’s traffic, I figured it was time to take a bite back. And a spicy bite at that. Sichuan Province was my weapon of choice, a province known for a number spicy delicacies including boiling hot-oils, “numbing” peppercorns, and combinations of fresh and dried pepper medleys. KRU$H MONEY, Wild Bill, and myself were on a mission. We started with breakfast at 85C, a Taiwanese bakery that featured a variety of sweet and savory breads and pastries made so that they were fluffy without being airy and had a wonderful mass without being dense. We sipped a variety of teas and enjoyed sharing a variety of baked goods before we were on to lunch shortly thereafter. As we walked around a neighborhood with far more Chinese characters than English, we picked a small restaurant that translated to “Spicy Home,” a place that resonates powerfully at the core of exactly what I set out to find. Bill and I split a meal that combined hot oils with mung bean noodles and previously raw meats (before hitting the boiling hot-oil), as well as a beautifully named dish that translated to “when peppers fell in love with chicken.” All of it was incredible. It absolutely floored me. So divinely spicy, but still so balanced and flavorful within that spice, never compromising the integrity of the dish they were cooking.
Shortly thereafter we traveled to the Hsi Lai Buddhist temple, a massive and beautiful structure atop a foothill where gardens of tranquility and shrines of solace helped us feel like we had stepped out of the metropolis that was engulfing us. One of my favorite things about getting to know major cities is beginning to understand the series of small communities and pockets of different cultural norms that allow you to step into a new world of perspectives. After about 8 hours in Hollywood and 24 hours exploring the area, I have only barely begun to scratch the surface of getting to know the City of Angels. But with this trip only whetting my appetite, I can’t wait to get another taste.