If Not For You, George Harrison…

Yesterday, November 29th, marked 16 years since George Harrison died.
It’s hard to come up with something original to say about him or John, Paul, or Ringo for that matter, but I’ve never really written in depth about what he means to me and this seems as fitting a time as any.

First, let’s get it out of the way, I totally cheated with the title of this. If Not For You is in fact a Bob Dylan song, I know. BUT…I like George’s version better and it fits. 😉

The Quiet One

The early days of Beatlemania brought those kitschy nicknames we all know: John the smart one, Paul the cute one, Ringo the funny one, and of course George the quiet one…and in a way he was…but in a way, he certainly was not.

There was a rigid economy that marked his words and music. Like a successful athlete, there was no wasted motion. Everything he said or played meant something. I’ve always admired that, particularly given my struggle with saying too much, often at the worst possible time.

Don’t Bother Me

George always stood apart from the rest. He had a demeanor, evident even from those early press conferences and performances, that displayed a certain seriousness, the pensive stare of someone surveying the crowd, not quite interested in being there but not wanting to leave either.

He resisted giving all of himself to all of us in a way that may not have been true of his brothers-in-arms but when he did allow us in, it was glorious.

He seemed to simultaneously loathe and relish the attention, the wealth, his craft, and, at times, even himself. As someone often complimented for being “charismatic” or “funny” or whatever else but also one who receives just as much derision for my apparent bitterness and anti-social tendencies, I always found George’s music and personality to be familiar… comforting even. I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing my seemingly diametrically opposed needs for isolation and attention, my cynicism and empathy…all of which always seems to be an anathema for so many around me. There are many here among us who understand what I mean.

A little dark and out key

From the beginning, George’s songs and even their titles stuck out. Take a glance at the tracking listing for With the Beatles. “All I’ve Got to Do” leads into “All My Loving” and then to “Don’t Bother Me” and then to “Little Child”. Have a guess at which George wrote. Go on…have a guess.

While the boys were writing some of the great pop love songs of all time, George chipped in with “If I Needed Someone.” IF?!

“Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are rightly among the most cherished songs in the Beatles canon but “If  I Needed Someone” has always been more significant to me…perhaps because I’ve been on the other side of the conversation depicted in the lyrics:

Had you come some other day
Then it might not have been like this
But you see now I’m too much in love
Carve your number on my wall

And maybe you will get a call from me
If I needed someone

I suppose too, I’ve been on both sides.

The wry and even biting wit found in “Taxman” or “Piggies” was written by the same man who created “Savoy Truffle”. Inspired by his friend Eric Clapton, it is both a clever ode and a sinister warning about Clapton’s lust for candy.

The lilting sparsity found in “Long Long Long” is a sibling to both the epic “All Too Much” and the massive and lush “Photograph” penned for Ringo’s 1973 album, Ringo.

Without the band his music further expanded and explored the seemingly endless battle between his biting disdain and the sublime meditations which defined so much of his life.

“Beware of Darkness”, “Let it Down”, “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long”, “Beautiful Girl”, “All Things Must Pass” and so many others explore the spaces between love and love lost, hope and surrender, angst and joy, isolation and wanting.

So too was his playing. Go back and listen to “Long Tall Sally” again. His two solos shatter through the speakers, explode off the acetate. This is George Unleashed.

George’s later work, marked by the fuzz box and slightly off-kilter rhythms and melodies found throughout Revolver, helped define an era and has inspired every guitarist from Jimi Hendrix to Matthew Sweet. It is THE Fuzz Tone. All others bend their knee in reverence.

A favorite moment of mine, and one that further displays just how much rage George could conjure is found on John’s 1971 song “Gimme Some Truth.” By then George had embraced what would be one of his many musical signatures: the guitar slide.

From a scream to a moan, to a fading tender tear, to a joyous prayer, his slide and his finger-picked legato phrasing have inspired and confounded me my entire life. Two of my favorites may surprise you given the depth of his work but I love the solos he contributed to the Anthology songs “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love”. As vibrant and soulful as any he played, for me at least, they “make” the songs.

Anyway, I can go on for days about this. About 18 years ago I wrote in a journal that I didn’t want to live in a world without George Harrison. Unfortunately he died shortly after…but he hasn’t really gone away has he? Not really.

Dhani, George’s son, an incredible musician in his own right, has done a masterful job of protecting and expanding George’s legacy and for that I am certainly grateful. He has worked tirelessly on remastering and preserving his father’s music and instruments, and organized George Fest back in 2014. The concert is available for purchase and clips abound on YouTube.

My want is that you all take a moment to dig through his songs a bit more than perhaps you have in the past. There’s so much more to his contributions than “Something” and “Here Comes the Son” or “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”….and those are monumental testaments. They are truly among the greatest songs ever written.

But do yourself a favor. Go a little deeper even than “All Things Must Pass” (a personal favorite) and look at tunes like “Never Get Over You” from his 2002 posthumous album, Brainwashed. Check out the oft-overlooked “Apple Scruffs” from his incredible All Things Must Pass. (And check out my friend David’s fantastic Beatles band by the same name)

My true want is that we forever and profoundly carry George Harrison in our hearts. I think doing so makes us better.

Until Next Time,

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

 

 

“It’s hard to choose between messing with knobs and dancing” a talk with Michelle Miears

 

This is the latest in a series of articles about some of Houston’s most fascinating female members of our music community. I’m not sure I meant for it to become a series but what began with wanting to showcase people who live lives in and around our community, juggle responsibilities, manage what often seem like conflicting goals, led me to the women you’ve read about here at Cathedral Records.

I’m inspired by people who live with their feet firmly planted in different worlds; musician and parent, spouse and business owner, band member and athlete, songwriter and business executive. That duality and those seemingly diametrically opposing forces are where the magic happens and where I find reassurance that my own ambitions are not impossible to achieve.

So with that, I give you this article about Michelle Miears. Her debut solo EP, “Who Will Save You” is amazing but you probably already know that from the incredible love she is receiving both in the press and from audiences who have been fortunate enough to see her perform.

This article, I hope, will shed a little light on the lady behind that powerful voice and those incredible arrangements. Her story is one of balance, of persistence, ambition, bravery, and certainly talent.

Her musical journey began, like that of so many of us. Her grandparents were avid musicians who performed regularly both on stage as part of multiple bands and in their homes for their children and grandchildren. One of her first memories of being attracted to commercial music was as a young child riding in a car with her mother as Enya came on the airwaves.

By 10, melodies were becoming imprinted in her mind and one of her first musical fascinations arrived on radio and TV in the form of three talented brothers from California, Hanson.

“I formed a little ‘band’ with my best friend and we would write songs while jumping on the trampoline day-dreaming about making it big” Miears explained.

The ambition and determination that have marked much her evolution as an artist began to take root early on as Michelle described her feelings at the time, “I took myself very seriously inside and I really thought this could happen for me and it was around this time that I taught myself piano.”

Piano led to flute in junior high band which she continues to play this day. During her high school days in band, Michelle even participated in the drum line challenging herself by competing and performing with players with many more years of experience. She cites the challenge as one of the “best and most rewarding times of (her) life.”

This notion of a sense of reward and empowerment through challenge and perseverance is a common refrain throughout her life and musical journey.

As the discussion turns to her influences she cites a long list of varied artists, two of the first being Paramore’s Hayley Williams as well as Imogen Heap.

“The first artist that made feel completely gutted inside (in a good way) and made me desperate to perform was Hayley Williams. I was living in California listening to (Paramore and Imogen Heap) on repeat. These two women taught me how to sing.”

A couple of start-stop band experiences led to an opportunity to join her brother’s band where she found her place within the word of electronic music.

“I had spent a lot of time listening to a few electronic bands in the past but in working with ZolotiNatioN I dug deeper into it. From that point, I felt like stylistically my voice fit better in this world than the pop-punk world that I had previously day-dreamed about.”

Shortly thereafter, hungry for a new band after ZolotiNatioN ended, BLSHS was born which further deepened her love of electronic music, composition, production, and expanded her horizons as an artist and performer. It was during a lull in the band’s activity that Michelle decided to take the massive step of writing, producing, releasing, and ultimately performing an EP of solo music.

When asked about the inspiration for the songs she doesn’t really have any artist or bands to rattle off.  Rather, her muse is born from the emotions and reflections of past relationships, her role in them, and how they have shaped her life and outlook moving forward.

“The songs on this EP were inspired by my own self-exploration and discovery of my relationship patterns, past and present, and my tendency to be codependent. I have a habit of assuming the role of caretaker, so far. Unfortunately I tend to measure my self-worth through feeling needed.”

These stark self-observations belie the powerful, passionate woman who commands the stage but give further insight into the high-wire act she walks between seemingly opposite forces: co-dependent and insecure but at the same time masterful and confident; inexperienced as a solo artist but having the focus and sheer force of will to craft an entire stage show while teaching herself an entirely new medium of performance in using Ableton Live.

The songs on “Who Will Save You” are meticulously crafted with a polished production that mask the fact that they were composed on an old keyboard with initial demos recorded not in Logix but on her mobile phone.

By day, she sits at a desk managing accounts for a staffing agency but by night Michelle becomes MIEARS as she anxiously races home, leaving her “civilian” life behind and embraces the world she much prefers, a world where “anything is possible.”

When the time came to perform the songs found on “Who Will Save You,” Michelle had a decision to make. She could perform alone, singing to her pre-recorded tracks or she could create something else, something more. The decisions to include a live drummer as well as a keytar were born of the same kind of duality that has defined so much of her musical journey.

“I don’t have the best self-esteem at times. I think the idea was originally conceptualized from my fear that people would be bored watching little ol’ me on stage by myself. I was actually terrified at the thought of being on a stage all by myself. The thought sounded very exposing and I couldn’t think of a more vulnerable position to be in.”

These words sound surprising coming from a woman with such masterful command of the stage as well as the creative vision needed to arrange the songs in such a manner that would allow space for live drums and in-the-moment performance using her cherished key-tar. “I love my keytar. I feel naked without it!”

That key-tar might as well be Thor’s hammer. As soon as she puts it on, the shy young lady I met in a parking lot outside Rock 4 Recovery becomes the incendiary performer who takes the stage night after night.

When asked how her busy performance schedule has been and how the process has evolved she expresses nothing but enthusiasm. The insecure, even shy young lady loses ground to the master craftswoman who values the kind work ethic that many fans or aspiring musicians may not realize are needed to reach the measure of their ambition.

“I’ve performed both with and without my drummer and I have received positive feedback in both circumstances. I am glad that I’m still pushing myself out there totally solo because it forces me to work on my confidence and stage presence.”

When the topic turns to Houston as a community Michelle’s passion is once again ignited. The environment’s collaborative and supportive nature that is often overlooked by outsiders is a huge source of inspiration.

“I am lucky to be emerging as a female solo artist at a time when there are so many other strong women surrounding me. I am so excited that there are women taking charge of the music scene like Mandy Clinton (of the Lories and Pearl Crush) who has a booking collective called DAMN GXRL which advocates for inclusiveness and diversity in the music scene. Teresa Vicinanza (Tee Vee) and Vicki Tippit (Black Kite) are pushing the boundaries of creativity and how an audience experiences live music. Black Kite recently wrapped up a series of immersive theater performances called Red House which completely blew my mind.”

Michelle quickly catches a breath and begins again:

“All three of these artists produce incredible music and I am a huge fan. Kam Franklin is touring Europe with her band, The Suffers, and taking on the globe one venue at a time. There are so many, it’s hard to name them everyone. These women are inspiring me daily with their creative journeys. I feel super empowered to be a woman in music and a woman in the Houston music scene right now.”

With the perspective and outlook Michelle has developed an audience may think her career is decades long when in fact Who Will Save You is her debut album (though the follow up is nearing completion). As I often say however, it’s not the number of years, it’s the number of miles and in Michelle’s case she’s logged enough to understand that the life of a musician, male or female, is not one to be entered into lightly.

While she can see no other life for herself because the thought of not pursuing her passion provides more pain than that of continuing and facing all struggles the road may bring, she is quick to offer both strong words of caution as well as a call to arms. (There’s that duality again)

“Being a musician requires a lot of time, work, dedication, and some thick skin. Somehow you have to force yourself beyond any doubt that you may feel. You have to put yourself out there, even when it’s scary and unsure of the outcome.”

Her advice to aspiring musicians?

“No matter what your age is, you can start any time. The time is now!”

Her words of encouragement ring as a sort of carpe diem, an anthem calling even the most trepidatious to step up to the microphone or piano or computer.

“Just take that first step. Whether it’s sharing a demo with a friend, finding a way to materialize the ideas in your head, learning to produce on your own in a DAW, learning to record at home with some basic equipment, learning an instrument or finally singing in front of people you have to take that jump!”
She concludes with a bit more self-reflection:

“I finally realized that every day I let slip by without taking another baby step is a day that I’ve lost at growing and being productive towards my dreams and passion.”

Oh and if that’s not enough to endear you Ms. MIEARS…she’s a Beatles fan…be still my beating heart. 🙂

 

 

Strange Days Indeed – thoughts on Ian Moore’s latest album

Ian Moore has never been afraid to follow his muse wherever it leads him, even at the risk of leaving others bewildered by their inability to neatly paint him within the lines or the confines of traditional genres. Many struggle to define what he’s “supposed to be” but he’s never been one to let others tell him who he is.

A Little Background

My introduction to Ian Moore came when my friend David Elbert, of Houston’s The Glass and Fake Believe, announced with rabid enthusiasm that we had to make a trip to the record store to get the new album. That album was Ian Moore’s Got the Green Grass and it changed me. I began following Ian and his incendiary group of musicians through the years. And All the Colors, Action Company, Luminaria, To Be Loved, and El Sonido Nuevo…each album a perfect collection of songs that led me through Moore’s passion for the craftsmanship of songwriting.

Never afraid to tip his hat to those who influenced him, there were nods to the Beach Boys, Dylan, the Beatles, as well as the compact and efficient songwriting of the Brill Building. He blended this with the sweaty soul of Sam Cooke, Sly and the Family Stone…he even threw the Monkees in there.

Certainly volumes have been written of the blazing guitar style seemingly born in some netherworld smelting furnace bringing together bits of Eastern scales with grimy Texas blues, jazz, Django gypsy melodies, funk and soul, and good-ole country pickin’.

There is a reverence for those who influence him in every note that pours from Moore’s voice and fingers. That appealed to me, a child raised to cherish these classic artists and genres.

On a Journey

At the end of every show I ran to the car and made notes. The next morning, off to the record store or off to the internet because beyond the fact that Ian Moore’s performances were cathartic celebrations of all things passionate, joyful, and inspiring – he always left bread crumbs for me to follow. Names like Chris Bell, Townes Van Zandt, Doug Sahm…all new to me.

Jeff Klein, now of My Jerusalem was introduced to me at early Ian Moore shows and soon thereafter the connection between Moore and David Garza appeared. Both Klein and Garza have become essential listening for me.

In bringing all these artists into my life, Ian Moore opened a door to a world that had been soulfully churning and burning just beneath the surface – as if in another dimension – and these artists, like those mentioned above, are held dear to his heart…and have become so in mine.

Every show, every album appears to be Ian Moore exploring all these musical traditions…not as a simple tribute or review…not as someone who wants to ride any given wave. No. Each album seems to be the result of him taking these influences into his soul, letting them simmer as the world around him seasons it all in a pressure cooker.

What comes out is uniquely Ian Moore. What comes out may nod its head to what inspired it but Moore cannot help but be himself. While having an uncanny ability to play everything – he’s unwilling to play just anything.

Almost like a tormented alchemist, he always seems to be moving forward seeking new methods, new formulas, and new paths to unlock the truth within…to take things forward…always forward.

Strange Days Follows This Path

Strange Days opens with a dirt-under-your-nails and sweat-under-your-collar guitar lick that would be at home in any 60s R&B club with rumors of James Brown maybe showing up after his gig uptown. But then, JJ Johnson’s snare roll brings an urgency that immediately introduces these Strange Days.

I went out walking towards
A free man of conscious with my gun
Free will or destiny, you’ve got to choose
You might build an empire but sometimes you’ve got to lose

The refrain comes quickly; this album has no time to waste.

 “I keep on dancing just to know I’m ok, nobody told me about the coming of the strange days.”

Strange Days indeed.

This album, like those before, has a salient thread running through it…at least I perceive it as such.

This album explores Moore’s funk and soul inclinations. Bass and drums in songs like Hercules provide a pulsing rhythm that drives the song forward as Moore’s guitar lays back until it’s time to explode…the filthy solo sweats fuzz as he bends the will of the guitar but again, no time to waste on this album. It ends leaving those many fans inspired by Moore’s guitar playing hoping for more…and are rewarded during the fade-out.

Two songs, “Saturday Night” and “My Girl” get a more polished reintroduction as they first appeared as part of the “30 Songs” demo series.

“Saturday Night” has a tight and efficient craftsmanship that would make Holland-Dozier-Holland proud. Complete with “do-do-do-da-da-das”  and sugary harmonies its arrangement and melody mask a more somber lyric – again, master craftsmanship.

“My Girl” finds Ian’s angelic falsetto in full display, again nodding his head to the masters like Smokey Robinson.

“I Will Carry On”, “Indian Red”, and “How Can I” bring a sense of angsty wisdom…cynical but without surrender or resignation. The music again reflects the subject matter as he blends demanding drums that allow the bass lines to roam and beefy horns provide a wall of sound all his own that embraces his not-so-subtle social observations of these times in which we’ve found ourselves.

The album closes with perhaps my favorite song.

“MaryGoRound” reminds me of when Moore used to close shows with The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song” and of the roaming, fuzzy dreamscapes he crafted during the All the Colors and Luminaria albums and shows.

The echo-drenched vocals surrounded by acoustic guitar and a warbling fuzzed-out electric carry the song sans percussion.

The closing lyric:

I was wide awake
You were half asleep
I need you
You said you don’t need me
And then it’s over.

The album pulls me in. There are so many surprises, so many layers, so much to explore. It gets better with each listen as it unfolds Moore’s inspiration and intention.

As part of the Ian Moore canon, it stands on its own merit while seeming in some ways a natural progression.

After exploring spacey acoustic folk, psychedelia, Texas troubadour storytelling, blues, jazz and everything in between, it seems appropriate that we would get an album that displays such reverence and enthusiasm for funk, soul, and R&B.

Yet…it stands as its own testament, its own statement.  This album and artist are not derivative or predictable. Yes there is evidence of what came before but it is something altogether different.

The album’s urgency, acknowledgement of frustration with the current socio-political landscape, and defiant yet optimistic (even sweet) temperament make this another essential listen in the long list of Moore’s incredible catalog.

I don’t do “ratings” or “stars” or any of that stuff so let’s just say I dig the album and I’ll be at the show next week in my usual spot…just to the side of Ian’s microphone so I can peek at his pedal board and maybe get a wink and a nod from him if he recognizes me again.

Haha…he once looked down at Dave and I and said “Hey, it’s you two guys. Man, you’re always here.”

Yes we are Ian.

We’re here and loving every minute of the journey you’ve been leading us through for all these years.

You can purchase Strange Days and all Ian’s albums on his website or through the usual digital streaming channels.

He plays Houston on March 17th at Rockefellers.

Until next time….

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

 

Tessa Kole Tells it Like it Is – an artist profile

Tessa Kole is one of Houston’s most dynamic and outspoken musicians. She quickly pivots from passionate artist to outspoken activist to successful athlete with what, on the surface at least, seems like almost effortless ease.

The same agility is true even in how she speaks. Her southern drawl is as sugary and comforting as grandma’s ice tea served on the porch under the blazing Texas sun. In a moment it can transform into rapid fire expletives and a tone as sharp as any West Texas barbwire.

Essentially, Tessa’s personality and life are as widely diverse and far reaching as Texas itself. Full of passion and integrity, she seems to embody ideas, approaches, and goals that at some points seem to be diametrically opposite to one another. Yet somehow they blend together to create something special and unlike anything, or anyone, else. Like the Lone Star State, Tessa is not willing to settle or be defined by any one aspect of her life. In fact, just one of the many distinct projects she juggles in a normal day-in-the-life could overwhelm even the most committed go-getters.

Tessa fills her day with her students that require extensive lesson planning and organization, her band, in which she is a principal writer, guitarist, and vocalist.

Having trouble keeping up?

She also collaborates with extensively with Stiletto Broadcasting on radio programs and in championing women in music. Her passion for community inspired her to create the Musicians’ DIY Fight Club.

How many hours are there in a day again?

Oh, and she’s also a competitive swimmer which demands incredible training, diet, and more than a few scheduling challenges.

Such an ambitious lifestyle often comes with compromises and creative multi-tasking. Perhaps the most of which she detailed by saying, “(Sometimes) I make breakfast and eat it in the bathtub to save time. I know that sounds crazy, but when I need more sleep…I sleep as late as I can, and that means that certain things have to be done together to save time.”

Tessa life in music seemed to be predestined. Born to a classical pianist mom while dad, a band director, also owned an orchestra and band repair company. At 4, at the insistence of her mother, she began piano. Piano led to guitar and even to “dabbling” in bass. An accomplished musician, she has a mastery of reading and writing notation and insists on doing the later by hand. “It’s a more organic process to me” she mentioned as we discussed her approach to writing and about her role as teacher.

At an early age she was inspired by Siouxsie and the Banshees and cites two of Prince’s albums, Sign O’ the Times and Around the World in a Day, as among her favorite albums of all time. A fan of dynamic Houston bands like Glass the Sky, Jealous Creatures, Only Beast, Valeluna, and Whit she also deeply enjoys Hiatus Kaiyote. (More evidence of the diversity that define her spirit)

Her music, which includes the band PuraPharm, (in which she is joined by her husband Paul Adams) weaves between moody, textured rhythms employing programmed, often frantic, beats to authentic Texas roots inspired acoustic folk marked by her passionately belted vocals.

Her writing process is not marked by any particular or rigid method but rather finds inspiration and melody from wherever it can be found. “I’ll know when the melody is right. It just happens naturally,” she said. Despite her extensive musical vocabulary and knowledge of theory, she continues to explore progressions rooted in basic open chords, the same one she teaches daily to her students.

“It’s like pieces of a puzzle that they can be creative with and use any way they want. I’ll take open chords and move them up and down the fret board until I hear something that works well and (sounds) unusual. The more I’ve started learning about certain chord progressions and how they work when rearranged a certain way, plus using my own intuition, magical things happen. I’ve got so much new material coming to me right now it’s ridiculous.”

She laughingly mentions that one of the songs she’s currently sewing together includes a progression born during a lesson with a 9 year old student who was kind enough to approve its use. How’s that for community and collaboration?!

A fiery Texas gal, there is no shortage of hot topics that ramp up her passion. When the topic of the Houston music community (she refuses the term “scene” and all it implies) the flames burn a few notches hotter. She is quick to express her passion and loyalty, and shower praise on her peers but just as quickly can launch criticism to those venues or “middle men” who exploit artists by charging bands to play or take advantage of the inexperienced to forward their own success.

“They will praise you one minute and tear you down behind your back the next. The only interest they have is their own, and advancing their own agendas. Most of these bands are just a pawn in those agendas. I refuse to be a part of it at any level.”

Now her engine is revving as she continues…

“A lot of bands don’t understand this, or just don’t care about it, but I do and that’s why you don’t see me hanging out with almost anyone. I don’t trust most people anyhow, so I don’t talk to these types in the first place. It saves me a lot of bullshit down the line. I run my own operation and do things in a way that is best for me. I learned early on not to trust anyone. I’ve never been one to run with the herd and follow their program, especially when there are so many flaws in it. I stay safe, stay away from all of those people, and my life has been much more drama free and I feel more (free) to create and do anything I want. I don’t want to be associated with any of those people. They’re the biggest two faced hypocrites you will ever meet. They don’t really have our backs; they just play real good at it. At the end of the day, they’re all out for themselves.”

This passionate independence and desire to provide others with the resources and the benefit of her experience cultivated over a lifetime in music inspired her to begin the Musicians’ DIY Fight Club. Not a record label, nor a management company, it operates as a sort of collective comprised of like-minded musicians who wish to collaborate and share wisdom in order to facilitate aspiring musicians as they attempt to take control of their own destinies and the business side of their careers.

“MDIYFC isn’t an organization. It’s more of a place to come for education and also to vent. It’s for people seeking the truth behind the way the music industry operates and (who) want ways to run their own show without the intervention of some POS middle man. Honestly, in this day and age, you don’t need ‘em. Some people may WANT them, but really, you don’t NEED them. There’s a big difference. It’s a place to come and talk about solutions.”

She’s running on all cylinders now as we discuss what advice she would offer aspiring musicians:

“Don’t trust anyone! That’s my biggest ‘don’t.’ People will lie to you, talk shit behind your back, and make you empty promises every day of the week….DO surround yourself with positive, uplifting people. Anything is possible if you believe it will work. Belief and faith is the main thing.”

Her passion for advocacy and activism hardly end at her beloved music community. A proud Christian, she does not shy away from openly sharing her faith. “My identity is through Him. I am proud to say I love Jesus Christ.”

The immediate reaction may be to think a devout Christian may cause a measure of conflict within a community known for its agnostics and atheists but Tessa happily states that while always feeling like an outsider of sorts, her faith has never been an issue with her fellow musicians in Houston.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said when the topic turns to politics.

A long time conservative that voted for Donald Trump in the most recent election, Tessa has been an outspoken activist going back to her participation in the Liberty Movement in 2009. More recently, the toxicity born of such a controversial and heated election cycle has taken its toll on many and she is no exception. Tessa describes some of her relationships as being strained, to say the least.

She has become somewhat of a target for those who find her outspoken support for conservative values. The political climate and heated debates have created incredible stress and ended several friendships.

“This election has caused the greatest divide amongst people I’ve ever seen. I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’ve been fucked with in every way possible, and I haven’t always responded well to that. I have been angry, hurt, frustrated, and depressed way too often and I have acted on those feelings in a manner that has not been healthy for me many times. I’ve cut ties with so many people I can’t even begin to tell you. Losing most of them has been for the best, but some I have really been shocked and hurt over.”

She continues with a heavy weariness in her tone, “There are people I will absolutely never speak to again. Then there are those that I’ve reached a level of pleasant discourse with, even though we completely disagree politically. Being a Trump supporter in the midst of a large group who hates him more than anything in the world has been really difficult.”

Refusing to let the drama bring her down, she chooses instead to focus on what inspires her and keeps her in a positive frame of mind: community, her music, her incredibly supportive husband, and finding solutions to problems through collaboration and faith.

“I’m really past the point of being upset about everything I’ve seen and experienced. I’m now to the point where I’m seeking better solutions. I want to keep things more positive. It’s a challenge for me. Once I get past the anger and hurt and frustration, I can get to the solution part. That’s where I’m headed now.”

In the end, Tessa Kole embodies the DIY individualism that has shaped Texas’ legend and lore for generations. She’s confident but not arrogant. She’s humble but not self-deprecating. She’s devoted but not self-righteous. Her music nods its head to her influences but could never be described as derivative. She’s sweet and polite like a well-raised good Texas gal, but mind your manners because like the barbwire that tamed the Wild West, she can shred you to pieces.

Her mantra? “Do no harm, but take no shit.”

Uncompromising in her beliefs and approach to music and life, she backs down from no one, stands up for everyone, and speaks from the heart no matter what. She’s exudes a gentle compassion for her friends and the community as a whole but to borrow from the famous slogan, Don’t Mess with Tess.

To listen to PuraPharm or Tessa Kole check them out on YouTube or Facebook.

 

 

I think there’s something you should know…I think it’s time I told you so

 

I’ve still got lots to say…

I haven’t picked up a guitar for any reason other than to noodle or entertain my son, Young Master Oliver, in two months. Two months ago I got struck by the muse and frantically wrote and recorded a rough first take of a song called “Can’t Let You Go.” It’s been even longer, years, since I performed my own music in front of an audience. That part of my life may be over…but then again maybe not. The desire is there. The love of the grimy greasy connection with a sweaty audience will always be there.

Though I’m at that age where many say “well, if you haven’t done anything by this point you’re not going to” I still have that need, that compulsion to write and to be heard. I’m looking forward to putting school in my rearview mirror so I can invest that time in releasing my first real record later this year.

I’ve been writing songs since before I could play an instrument. I was “that” kid with a spiral notebook full of lyrics and a head full of melodies. Thoughts and feelings have been clawing out of me for as long as I can remember and that hasn’t changed with age…in fact it’s only become more urgent. I still have lots to say and I’m not going to keep it bottled up inside.

There’s something deep inside of me
There’s someone else I’ve got to be….

I’ve often felt like I’m living someone else’s life…like I’m somehow going through the motions and wearing some kind of mask…like I’ve never fully committed to being who I really want to be, who I really am…like I’m walking a tight rope refusing to commit to either side.

I’ve never fit in.

I’ve had a nice professional career, solid resume and all that jazz, but I never really felt at home and always seemed like an outsider in this “business” world.

It has always felt the same way in the music community. I wrote songs and performed, sure, but I wasn’t a “real” musician…whatever that means.  I always felt “less than.”

It kind of reminds me of junior high and high school. I wasn’t a jock, I wasn’t a nerd, I wasn’t a burnout, I wasn’t, well, anything. I had friends in every group but I was never fully embraced, nor did I fully enter any given group.

But somewhere along the lines I really stopped caring about fitting in, about “being who I really am” and just sort of started being who I actually am. To my surprise this has happened without noticing or even trying.

Which brings me to my point….

My point is that I finally have a point. I know who I am and what I want to do.

Freedom!

Freedom has a lot of definitions. It can mean a lot of things. It can mean having enough money to tell anyone to go screw themselves. It can mean having nothing left to lose…so you can tell anyone to go screw themselves.

Or, it can mean knowing exactly who you are.

For years I thought I had to live in one box and the fact that I wasn’t neatly packed in the “musician” box or the “mature business person” box or the “whatever else” box created a lot of internal struggle for me…and for sure those around me.

But now…screw it. I’m all things at once. I can prioritize. I can pick something up and do it for a while and then put it down and do something else for a while.

In the end, I am who I am and I know who that is: father, husband, son, brother, friend…who’s just trying to write a few good songs along the way.

I may not sell out shows or “hit the big time” but that doesn’t really matter. I may not become CEO of some dynamic firm but who cares?

I want to write music and have it be heard. I would like to get on stage again at some point, both as that solo singer-songwriter on a stool but also plugged in with a greasy band in a dive and make noise that rattles walls and souls…but it will happen when it’s right for me…and not because I’m desperate to recapture my youth or make up for lost time or anything of the sort.

I also want to be a good member of the music community here in Houston. I want to cultivate solid, collaborative relationships through Cathedral Records and I want to tell our collective and individual stories.

We all have a story to tell. All those stories are important and should be heard.

That’s one of the most important things I want for Cathedral Records…to be a storyteller. To document our collective experience as we’ve lived this life in music. These lives we live, they’re so different yet we are bound by our passion, our creativity, our need to share our thoughts and visions and the voices in our heads and by being willing to put ourselves out there to the world…naked and unashamed.

I am a songwriter. Really, at my heart that’s what I am. I may not be a good one, may not be a popular one but that’s what I am. No matter what I’m doing in life as a father, husband, son, brother, friend…it always comes back to needing and wanting to write songs along the way.

Cathedral Records is how I stitch everything together. It’s the tie that binds all the different pieces of my identity. It is the label through which my own music will be published but it is also the medium I have chosen to provide support, encouragement, and maybe even a little guidance to the Houston music community and to provide a resource to the younger aspiring musicians coming up behind us trying to figure out how to do this music thing.

That will take a lot of different shapes. I’ll provide representation to artists I think need to be heard and help them get their message across. I want to help venues and artists connect in a healthy, productive and mutually beneficial manner. I want to advocate for independent artists. I want to encourage collaboration and cooperation among the artists so we can all benefit and I want to brag about and promote all the incredible people in our community.

I want to tell our story.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing stories about some of Houston’s most interesting, dynamic, talented, and passionate community members. I hope you all enjoy reading about them as much as I’m enjoyed hearing them tell their stories to me.

Until then….

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

 

 

Reflections on my songwriting – Sad songs say so much….

So last night was a night like most others save for the fact that a new song started to take shape. I posted the rough first take to Soundcloud and asked the missus to take a listen.

She reacted the same way she always does. “It’s sad.”

We have this discussion every time I write something new and I go back through my demos and point to this song or that song and say “look it’s happy, it’s even in a major key!” and she says “NO…it’s SAD!”

She’s hears my music differently than I do but last night as we were going back and forth on the nuances of sadness verses melancholy I finally had to admit that yes, the new song, and even the song I used as an example of a happy one, are both kinda sad.

That got me thinking.

This morning I played through my entire track list on Soundcloud.

She’s right…there is an undercurrent of sadness, of reflection, self-doubt, and melancholy that runs through everything I write.

Last night, and often when this discussion comes up, she asks me if I am a sad person and takes it personally when I confess that, well, yeah…I have always kinda been more of an Eeyore than a Tigger…but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m “sad.”

I’m content with my life. I think I have a great life. My wife and I have built something pretty awesome. We have a beautiful home full all the luxuries middle class America (and credit cards haha) can afford us.

Most importantly we have the most gorgeous, perfect, incredible child anyone in the world could ever wish to have.

My parents are a blessing and, while I have but a few friends, they are true friends.

But that doesn’t change the fact, I am very melancholy. When I think about myself it’s usually in terms of what I can’t do, what I didn’t do, what I should have done. I worry. A lot.

I always have. There’s just no getting around it.

Two years ago, on my 38th birthday I wrote a song and the line says “Funny you should ask, yeah it’s birthday. 38 and still full of my teenage angst.”

That’s as true now at 40, as it was then at 38, at 28, and at 18. I’m sure it will be true at 48, 58, and 68.

The song also says,

“But through it all I’ve found myself in a good place
I’ve got a good wife and a kid on the way.
Though I’m always down, and I like to complain
That’s just how I’ve always been and always will be.
But oh my love, I love today.”

I think, as much as anything I’ve written, that last bit captures where I’m at in life, certainly since getting married and even more so since the birth of my son.

As much as there are parts of my day-to-day, parts of my overall life that infuriate me, depress me, or act as a hot wet blanket, I am very grateful, very humbled, and yes “happy.”

That doesn’t mean I’m not still addicted to my sad. I still bathe in self-loathing, doubt, and the frustrations that come with carrying a lifetime of baggage around with me…but that’s just how I am.

It doesn’t mean I’m not “happy” with my wife, son, and life in general. It just means…well, I guess it just means I’m “THAT” guy…I’m that guy that writes sad songs because, well, it’s how I get it out.

I don’t write songs with anything in mind. I never have. I began writing songs out desperation. I needed the combination of words AND music to get certain feelings out of myself. Most of those feelings, I guess have been sad in one way or another.

She challenges me to write a “happy” song. She’s not the only one to have done so over the years.

From the perspective of a songwriter, someone who approaches it as a craft, it makes sense to stretch myself but when I’ve tried to do that, it feels disingenuous. I’ve never sat down to write a song as an artistic exercise…at least I’ve never succeeded in completing a song like that. I always toss it away because it just doesn’t feel right.

When I sit down to write, I’m not thinking about quality or structure or style, I’m just trying to get something off my mind, or out of my guts.

Sometimes I sit back and listen to what I’ve created and I think “hey, that’s not a bad song.” It seems almost coincidental though…like I managed to get my feelings out AND it might be enjoyable for someone to listen to.

I don’t know. That’s not really for me to judge though. I just sort of judge my songs on whether they sound good to me and whether they expressed what I needed to get out.

Bottom line, my songs are a reflection of who I am…obviously. And while it’s true that there has always been a thread of melancholy in both my life and my songs, it doesn’t mean my wife has failed me or that my son does not inspire anything short of jubilation.

Besides, “sad” songs are almost always “better” anyway haha…when I  think of all the songs that cut to my core, that inspire me, that embrace me soul, they’re all sad songs. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.

Like I said, I guess I’m just “that” guy…38 (well 40) and still so full of my teenage angst. 😉

You can visit my “sadcloud” here. 😉

Be Well and Kind,
-Jason

“Capturing the Moment” A Conversation with Ashley Newman

As a songwriter, I think of my music as Polaroid snapshots of my mental/emotional/philosophical state of mind at any given moment.

Some writers write “story songs” about characters…think Billy Joel’s Brenda and Eddie from Scenes from an Italian Restaurant or Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane.

That’s not really the case with me. For better or worse, I write about myself. What can I say? I’m very self-involved, haha.

But really, for me, songs are like photographs in that they capture a moment and from a certain perspective, those moments become permanent, locked in time.

So with that in mind, I have the great pleasure of bringing you all a conversation with the talented Ashley Newman of Ashley Newman Photography. She recently relocated to Tuscaloosa from Houston and I had the chance to catch up with her to discuss everything from how things are going in her new Metropolis to what got her started in photography and what the future holds.

Jason – What got you into photography? When did you decide this is what you wanted to do?

ashley

Ashley – I started photography as a teen. I had always been interested in preserving memories and photography just felt natural. Everyone has a story to tell and I believe photography is a special medium that can captur
e those moments in time. In 2005, my husband and I were married. We were on a budget and we hired a photographer that we thought would give us the best deal financially…when we got our images back we were sorely disappointed. It wasn’t the vision I had of my special day and my images were such poor quality I couldn’t order gift prints or pictures for my home. I felt robbed of a moment that I would never get back, but I learned a valuable lesson- and more importantly I began to see photography in a different light. When my husband and I had our first child, that’s when I committed to using the skills I had learned in college to take better photos. My children’s growth wasn’t something I was going to miss out on because of bad photography or a lack of knowledge. I officially launched my business in 2009 and have loved the growth process and working with families along the way. Once we had our third child, I decided it was time to go full-time with my business and stay home with my family. I have loved every moment of the memories I have been able to capture for myself and my clients since I first made the comittement. 

Jason – I feel a lot like that with my songwriting. I had always written, essays, poetry (yeah I was that guy) all in trying to express my “story” as you put it and I always gravitated towards music because it felt like such a special means of expression. Once I got my first guitar, I never looked back. I got into recording much in the same way you did in that I was frustrated with the quality of recordings I was getting from friends and studios charged so much for what I perceived to be so little.

Jason – What do you think sums up your professional outlook on photography?

Ashley – My motto is “Let’s tell a story together” and I really love that images can do that. When I am at a session I try to capture all the details- from smiles and tickles, to sweet baby fingers and even clothing details. I believe that art tells a story about who we are, and pictures capture special moments in time. I know that when you are looking for a photographer, you are trusting another person with your family memories. As a mother myself, I know your story is important. I work hard to make sure your session is stress-free and captures this season with your special, unique family. So let’s tell a story together! I am committed to authentically capturing your family and the city of Tuscaloosa. I want to tell your story, only the one that you can share, and I want to be the one to share that for years to come as we grow and change together.

Jason – I really relate to this and I love how you frame things in terms of telling a story together. I think when someone walks into a recording or writing session it’s very similar to what you describe here. It’s a matter of telling a story about who we are, where we are, what we feel and, like pictures, music can capture that moment. When you’re looking for a studio or for someone to help you with your music, you are definitely trusting them with an incredibly significant part of your life and soul.

So how’s Tuscaloosa treating you? What’s been the biggest change?

Ashley – Honestly, it has been the slower pace of life…but I don’t view it as a bad thing. Washley2e were ready for the change and I think we needed to slow down. We feel at ease here and comfortable with our new normal. It feels like home. Being from Texas, this hasn’t been a huge change for us. It’s being without connection and family that has been the most difficult transition. I am quickly finding that home town Tuscaloosa is friendly and inviting. I’ve already begun to get plugged into the community and it feels more and more like our home town every day. My biggest goal would be to meet new families and make new friends. Business-wise, I want to just shoot. I want the opportunity to explore the city more, to work with local families and to get out with my photography. I want to do something outside of me and outside of being a mom, while blessing other families. 

Jason – Musicians can always rattle off a million names when it comes to inspiration or what their music sounds like…”it’s like Radiohead but if Chuck D were producing it crossed Shoegaze and a touch of skater music.” Hahaha What about you? Who are your influences?

Ashley – It’s difficult to list just one, but classically speaking I enjoy the work of Man Ray and Sally Mann. In the 21st century, I adore the work of Erin Witowski, and Rachael Vanovan. 

 Jason – OK, million dollar question – Beatles or Stones?

Ashley – Stones…all the way.

 Jason – Seriously? You’re just messing with me now…

Ashley – no. I don’t like the Beatles…maybe it’s because I was raised on the Rolling Stones but that’s just how it is.

 Jasonyou know we can’t be friends anymore right?

Ashley – Your loss.

Jason – I’m not so sure anymore. ;-p

ashley pic

Ashley Newman can be reached at her website – www.ashleynewmanphotography.com

or and you can follow her fascinating and tender blog at https://barryandashley.wordpress.com/

 

Polaroids

525855_10150644097980919_1591243808_nA recent discussion (which you’ll see posted here soon) has gotten me thinking about my songwriting.

I’ve recently written several new songs in a short amount of time and I’ve been listening to them in order over the last few days to get a feel for where I want to take the arrangements…as you all know, I typically post raw demos/1st takes to SoundCloud and then go back through to determine how best to approach further production.

Now, all my songs, for better or worse, are about me. I’m an “I, Me, Mine, You, Us” singer instead of a “They, Them” storyteller.

I talk about what’s on my mind and in my heart. That’s how it’s started and while much has been written and debated about the merits and quality of such songs, these are the songs I write. They may not be much but they’re honest and they’re all I’ve got.

I strive to write songs that people will enjoy listening but honestly, the audience part of making music takes a secondary role to me making sure I get everything I need to say out onto the page and into the chords as possible. 267x267-3864895C-2E0B-4B64-A7F1C8A706F19A0C

Thus, every song I’ve ever written is a diary entry of sorts. How did I feel on any given day about any given thing…listen to the song and you’ll know where my head was.

Well…because this last batch of songs came so quickly it’s interesting for me to hear the progression. There’s a definite arc and flow from beginning to end…it’s so obvious that I wonder if it’s not…toooooo obvious haha.

Then again, I don’t think anyone would accuse me of subtlety. 😉

Using the power of SoundCloud (really just the playlist feature I recently discovered haha) I decided to put these most recent songs together in order. Listening to them together with a bit of distance, my ears hear them as one of those old flip books of individual photos that create the image of a running horse. Remember those?

One note – the very first song in the list was written quite some time ago but plays a critical role in the arc of this batch of songs. It’s the seed from which Honey Sky – Mended Heart and My Beating Heart grew.

Shortly there after, the next three songs were written, I believe on consecutive days. Then Ghosts came that weekend maybe (was written over the course of two or three days) and then finally, this past Sunday Guess We’ll See came to life.

To me I see things as starting low, climbing high then dropping a bit and then crashing completely before coming back up a bit and leveling out.

Listen to the Lithium Diaries here.

What do you all think?

 

What does it mean to “make it” as a musician?

When I was a kid talking about being a musician when I grew up was unanimously met with a single response: “Well…you better have a fall back.”

It seems like to my parents’ generation, making it as a musician meant one thing: being famous, like Bon Jovi or Tom Petty or someone like that.

I heard time and time again how slim my chances were of ever earning a living, how hard the life was, how only a tiny percentage of people ever actually “make it.”

And that’s true if we’re limiting the definition of “making it” to that level of acclaim and wealth.

But is that the only definition?

I think not…and that’s what I want Cathedral Records to communicate to aspiring songwriters and musicians.

Let’s take things piece by piece…

First…times have changed. Gone are the days where you have to be in that magical right place at that oh so right time with that one person listening who will sign you to a record deal and make you the next Muse or Pearl Jam.

Never before have artists had the tools and opportunity to make their music available to so many people…with just a few clicks of a button no less.

Effective social media marketing, self-promotion, and the age-old hustle, can provide a group with everything from performance opportunities to media attention and, most importantly, eyes and ears. Musicians used to need heavy radio play to be heard…when was the last time you listened to terrestrial radio?

An artist no longer needs a major label to get their music into the same channels as everyone else. You can publish your music to Google, iTunes, Amazon and all the other streaming sites, you can make your music available for download and there are incredibly budget friendly options for pressing both discs and vinyl to sell on your own site and at your shows.

What you might lack in quantity you make up for in terms of share of the profits as well as profit margin.

BUT…that’s just talking about going out there and gigging and trying to make a living as an original artist.

What about the incredible wave of cover/tribute bands making great money playing clubs all around Houston? These players are masters of their craft, enjoying themselves playing the music that inspired them to play in the first place.

There’s also a thriving performance community playing at casinos, on river boats and cruise ships as well as theaters in cities like Branson Missouri. These guys can FLAT OUT PLAY…some of the most mind-boggling musicianship I’ve ever witnessed has been in tiny theaters in Branson played by people who “lived the life” and realized they could make more money, spend more time at home, and work better hours by gigging for these types of shows than they could touring.

YES…it is hard…YES many of these players do keep day jobs or play several gigs with different acts each week…but they’re living creative lives on their own terms. Would you rather spend 40-plus hours in a cubicle or at a retail counter or would you rather spend 40 hours playing?

Now…what about all the people you DON’T see on a stage?

Do you ever think about all the music you hear in movies, TV, commercials, cartoons, children’s shows or other media?

That music is written, recorded and produced by somebody. Who do you think these people are?

These are musicians who, by and large, work from home or from co-op style studios and agencies doing what they love…and generally being paid quite well.

They followed similar career paths as any other professional…school, school, school, internships, school and more school. They typically have education in composition, production, recording, computers, as well as business administration and communications/marketing.

They are just as skilled, educated and professional as those lawyers, doctors, and dentists so many of us were encouraged to become…but at least in my case, I never really knew or thought about this kind of career path.

Bottom line…there are more ways to “make it” in the music industry than just becoming famous.

If fame is what you strive for, well…fair play to you and good luck.

But if you want to make a solid living doing what you love, don’t immediately think you have to hang up your guitar or put away your drum sticks and get a “real job.”

And…never let anyone tell you being a musician isn’t a real job.

As someone who has spent years writing, rehearsing, studying, learning, and yes performing…let me tell you…it’s as real as it gets.

 

 

Why write?

When I was a kid, I wrote…a lot. I was the type of kid who kept journals, who constantly wrote poems, stories, essays, articles and I had a dream diary.

I always had notebooks with all sorts of thoughts and ideas. Sometimes they were just notes to myself, conversations with myself but other times it was like I was writing letters to people who would never read them.

I just needed to express myself…the emotions, the thoughts, would just erupt.

But it wasn’t enough. Words alone weren’t emptying the gaping festering wounds in my heart and mind that forced me to write in the first place.

Then I found a guitar. My dad had one and some Mel Bay level 1 books so one night I figured out a G chord and it was like breathing for the first time.

Since then writing music has been the primary manner in which I express myself. I still journal, I still write (like this blog for instance) but when that soulful eruption occurs, it’s always the same way: notebook, pencil, guitar and a bourbon-and-coke.

Sometimes I’m dry and empty and can’t get anything out so I just play for my own enjoyment, I have things to say but they aren’t focused or realized in any way beyond just wanting to hear notes come out of the amp or whatever. I like making noise sometimes but lately, the songs are coming.

I recently uploaded two new demos that came quickly, one right after the other. I was inspired.

Then yesterday, on my way home from work while still in the car, I found myself frantically reaching for a pen and anything I could find to write on. Within a mile I had a full verse. I got home, sat down with my notebook, pencil and bourbon-and-coke. Before I could finish the first cigarette I had a page full of lyrics.

It was cathartic. I just threw everything onto that page and it felt great.

Problem is, ha-ha…I have no music to go with it. Typically, as I said, I write words and music together but this time, the words just poured out so fast there holding the guitar was a distraction.

Once I was finished, I did pick up my trusty Martin and fooled around with three or four different keys and progressions but I’m not sold on any of them.

Part of my wants it to be gritty and angry. Part of my wants it to be wistful and pensive. I just don’t know.

If D minor is the saddest key and E minor is the darkest or angriest…what’s the best key for “to hell with it?”

I’m not sure…hopefully this weekend I’ll find the time to work on this song. I’m in a period of time where all I want to do is sit with my notebook, pencil, bourbon-and-coke, and guitar and do nothing but write…unfortunately, my reality is a lot different than it was in my twenties. I don’t really get to do that anymore…now every minute is precious.

Anyway…I write because I don’t know how else to get things out. I don’t know how else to keep what little hold I have of my sanity. I don’t know how else to cleanse my soul and empty my mind. I write because I have to write.