Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day Trippers: Broken Fences live radio debut

Me driving on US-22

Yesterday was a very scaled-down taste of what's to come for us when we go on the road.  It was only for a day, and less than 200 miles round trip, but it meant something to us.  We did an hour-long radio interview and performance with WIUP-FM in Indiana, PA.

I've never done live radio before, and I believe Morgan has only once, so if we're being completely honest, we were nervous.  More about the talking than the playing... we've done podcasts before, but those aren't LIVE.  If you say something stupid on the radio it's just out there for everyone to hear.  Fortunately, the folks interviewing us made us feel at home, and after awhile we forgot the conversation was even on the airwaves-- that is, until the twitter questions started coming in.  We had so much fun doing it we didn't want that hour to end.  The best part was getting to play so many songs-- we did 7 or 8 all together.  I know a lot of you got to stream it live, but you can hear it again HERE.  The day culminated with a gorgeous, mountainous central-Pennsylvania sunset, and we rode the light all the way home.  I am thrilled to say I am no longer intimidated by live radio.

Until next time,
I imagine this is how Louie spent most of his day

Friday, February 24, 2012

No Finish Line

The other day I was running with the dog, listening to music, in my own world.  On my route there’s a completely blind spot where a building ends and a parking lot exit begins. I always kind of slow down and lean forward to make sure it’s clear before passing, but I don’t really stop.  This particular time, an SUV was driving too fast for me to see on my glance, and as soon as I passed the building it looked like that was about it for me and the Lou dog. 

Thankfully, the driver was guilty of speeding, but not distracted driving.  He slammed on his brakes and we lived to see another day.

I wouldn’t call it a near-death experience... but if that driver had been, say texting, or fixing his GPS, it would have, at the very least, changed everything for me, the driver, and everyone close to us.  It’s one of those wake-up calls where you realize you don’t have as much control as you think.

We’re all racing towards something.  Right now for us it’s the record release and after that, touring. I always do this: I delude myself into thinking my life has finish lines while I'm alive. What’s more is that I honestly believe I have control over them.  In my head, the finish line that is the record release goes something like this: the room is at capacity, the audience is rapt, and look, Danger Mouse is here and he wants to do his next project with us!  Then of course there’s Grammy Awards and sold-out stadiums, etc. But that isn’t how it works, and I’m not sure it’s even what I want.  No, when the album is finished and we’re back from touring, we figure out how we’re going to do it all again.  And again, and again.  Hopefully we keep growing as artists, and keep connecting with more and more people everywhere we go.  When I stop and think about it, I’m grateful that there are no finish lines.  

John Lennon sang one of my favorite lyrics of all time: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  I’ll try to live more.


P.S. If anyone knows Danger Mouse please tell him our record release is June 1, 2012 at Club Cafe.  Thanks.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Nobody Knows You When You Down and Out"

Sometimes a broken lightbulb can be fixed, but when you flicker out, even for a moment, it's like no one wants to know you. And can you blame them really? Everyone's just looking for happiness, be that material, love, money, selfless volunteer. Sometimes you get stuck in a cycle of self-doubt, self-blame, and self-hate. And then it's like the muddiest area to stand in, hard to get out of, and messy to be in. I personally own a house in that muddy land, paid off and mine. Though the other day, something snapped inside me. Not the bad kind of snap where I lose it and go crazy on Pittsburgh (I hate that word "crazy"), but a good snap, one where something just clicked in my brain. Frustrated and bored with how my everyday had turned in to an endless stream of bad days, my brain and body almost decided by itself that it had had enough. So I packed up practically nothing from my house in the mud, locked the door, and went into the sun. I used to hate the sun as a teenager. I grew so pale and felt like I didn't deserve those rays. My mother desperately wanted some sun in my life, she even got one of those sunlights and would ask me to sit under it for a few minutes (which I never did). Now I almost crave the sun. It just makes you feel better. Not to mention if you are always cold like I am, it's a sure way to warm up. Now while you still won't find me sunbathing at the beach or on anyone's rooftop, I now feel the suns purpose for happiness.
Another thing that switched in my head was something that Guy said. He said, "Don't scratch that itch" Itch meaning phobia, panic attack, jealousy, self-doubt or anything negative that you need reassurance on. That reassurance will only feed that negativity so it will be stronger next time. Just let it burn out and it will disappear and you will realize the real things that matter.
Now I don't want any of you to worry, I'm not turning into a bundle of extreme happiness and stop writing the sad songs that I write haha I still have alot of sadness that needs to come out through song and will probably last me the rest of my life. I'm just saying that it's exhausting to live everyday under such a dark cloud. I mean, it sucks when it rains everyday right? It's like getting cabin fever in your head. Let me out. I'll still have days when I'll go walking back to my house and sit there for a bit, but I don't have the desire to stay there anymore. Why do that, when life really is so short in the long run. There's so much good music, good food, places to visit, things to try, people to meet, shows to play. Alright, I'm going to sign off before I smile myself to death. Goodnight and sweet dreams.

~Morgan Erina

Bessie Smith "Nobody Knows You When You Down And Out"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What is happening to my brain?

First of all, quick plug: if you haven't heard, the album release date is set.  It's going to be June 1, 2012 at Club Cafe in Pittsburgh. Moving on...
I thought this was funny until I remembered the eTrade commercials.
I've been thinking a lot lately about technology and social networks' effects on our psychology.  I recently got into a brief, friendly debate with someone on Twitter (I can't believe I just said that... three weeks ago I still hardly knew what Twitter was) about whether smart phones stifle creativity and imagination.  I was making the devil's advocate case that maybe the technology we have can actually enhance our creativity by freeing us up from spending, for instance, three hours looking something up at a library that we can now just wikipedia on our iphone in ten seconds.  I think we agreed that the problem lies in the addictive nature of things like Twitter and Facebook, and the fact that smart phones mean we're constantly connected.  The user argued the need for silence and I agreed.

When I'm reading or writing a song or playing piano or exercising, I usually have the discipline to turn my phone off.  But I got my first cell phone when I was 17, so I had already made it past adolescence with most of those habits intact.  Today's kids get their first phones way earlier-- this article says the average age is 8.  I know my younger cousins are no exceptions, and that's exactly who I was thinking about when my mom forwarded me an article about my cousin Austin Glass, who is in 6th grade.  Apparently Austin showed up at a school board meeting and submitted a proposal he'd come up with to increase revenue in his school district.  Once again, Austin is in 6th grade.  Here's an excerpt from the article on

Glass proposed HATLO, or the Hempfield Alumni Tradition Lives On, which he hopes will save classes, field trips, athletics and other programs from the fiscal chopping block.

"Graduates must recognize the need to reinvest in the school district that equipped them for success," he wrote in a handout to school directors. "We have top-notch programs and educators here at Hempfield and they cannot be maintained in this economy unless alumni give back."

He suggested the district set up an online network of alumni -- social media such as Facebook and Twitter are free, he noted, unlike costly bulk mailings -- and "politely ask these graduates for donations to help close the gap."

Cousin or not, that's pretty impressive conscientiousness, creativity, and imagination for a kid that age.  It's not the same kind of creativity I personally engage in, but in a way he's creating art.  He's using his mind and thinking outside of the box that the school board was stuck in.  He is not being a passive technological stimulus-addict.

Let me end with a survey I posted on Facebook a few nights ago when I couldn't sleep:

Everyone seems to be plugged in to the social media right now, and I'm definitely not excluding myself. What do you think it's doing to us psychologically? It's not a new question, but I haven't thought about it in awhile (I've been too busy figuring out twitter to think about these things). Anyone out there also on Facebook on a Friday night can vote: 
Is social media... 
A. Good 
B. Bad 
C. Just kind of weird 
D. Other (specify)

You can vote for more than one

My stance is much the same as most issues: all things in moderation.  Let's make creative and productive use of all this technology to improve our lives, reach more people, and change the world, but let's all turn off our iPhones once in awhile.  It can be good, it can be bad, and it's definitely weird. I vote A, B, and C.  Feel free to leave a comment with your vote.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A learned sheep is still a sheep

When I think about how much my life has changed since I graduated from college two years ago, I often wonder what would happen if me circa 2009 and me today met for coffee.

This is nothing new and I'm sure I'm not alone.  My entire life I've looked back at my former self with pretty harsh judgement.  I'd see yearbook pictures, read old journals, or listen to tapes I'd made and think, "Thank God I'm not like that anymore.  What a tool."  And then, of course, a year later I look back at the kid who said that, and say "Man I thought I was cool then?  What a tool."  It never really stops.  If I read this blog post in 2013 (for some reason), I can be sure the reaction would be pretty much the same: "Tool." The only way I can salvage my ego from general devastation is remembering that pretty much everyone I know feels the same way.  Like most people, I'm completely un-self-aware, and I pray that the way I see myself, past and present, is not how the world sees me.

But I'm actually talking about something sightly different.  My character has shifted since college, but probably not much more than any other two year period in my life.  The more drastic changes has been to my worldview.

I was good at school.  Pretty much my entire life, but especially from high school on.  I got good grades, did well on the SATs, and pretty much cruised through my college classes at Carnegie Mellon University with straight As.  In no way am I saying this to boast, just trying to show the whole picture.  I admit, I subscribed to the theory that my grades and test scores entitled me to something from life.  I'm not sure exactly what, but I always had the sense that I'd be okay, because  look at my SAT scores!  I wasn't the hardest worker but I tried to stay on top of things. I think my talent was figuring out what was expected and delivering exactly that. It was artless and boring.  My senior year of college, when pretty much every student in my percentile was applying to grad school or $100K-a-year jobs, I ran and hid from it all.  I couldn't do more school.  I had grown so numb to the rote method I'd been applying, and to the meaningless success I was having.

So instead of filling out applications I spent my time tinkering with pianos, writing songs, and playing guitar.  Irresponsible, right?

Well, in the short term it actually was pretty irresponsible.  I had a degree from a top university and nothing else.  It turned out no one really wanted to hire a linguistics/music major, regardless of GPA.  So I worked jobs I could have gotten right out of high school.  Remember the 2010 Census?  Those people who knocked on your door if you forgot to send in your forms?  I was that guy.  I had some fun with it and go off-script, too.  I'd knock and say, "Ma'am, I'm from the government," which was technically true, and just watch their faces.  Then there was the Starbucks musician cliche.  Yeah, I might have made you a latte between June of 2010 and May of 2011. A lot of good my education did me.

Since graduating I've come to believe, as Seth Godin's writes in Linchpin, "Being good at school is kind of like being good at Frisbee."  It's great to have, but it's not the answer. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful to my parents for making my education possible.  If I could do it again I wouldn't change anything because I couldn't have known what I know now; I had to go through that to discover it.  I'm questioning the whole system of institutional education, not anyone's decision to exist in it.  The truth is I've learned more since graduating college-- about music, culture, and life-- than in the four years I was there.  Meeting people, collaborating with Morgan, and playing in this band taught me much more than formal education ever did.  To quote Billy Costigan in The Departed, "All due respect, Mr. Costello, school's out."  Amen.  Thank you, Music, for saving my life.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Keep going...

Its no secret that we all suffer at some point. I used to think I should keep it to myself, and not let anyone in...but that's no way to live. It's better to be honest, even if that truth hurts you and others. I really want to talk about panic attacks. This shouldn't be a subject that is taboo. Many people have panic attacks, and being one of them, I feel like I should say a few words on the subject.
First off, here is the definition of panic attacks: A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that develops for no apparent reason and that triggers severe physical reactions.

That pretty much sums it up in a little nutshell, but it's so much more. It's definitely hard to describe a panic attack, especially when it's different for everyone. So I can only describe it from my point of view.  It's a tightness in the chest, and a choking in your throat. It's heart hammering, it's spacing out. It's shaking, and irrational thought. It's a mind moving so fast you can't see straight. The more you think about it once you're in it, the worse it gets.

Just like everything, to get better, the mind needs to be trained. And I am/have been working on this for a while now. There are some days when I feel like it's all better, and some days where I take a million steps back and feel like I've made no progress at all.

To train ones mind takes alot of hard work and patience. It doesn't happen overnight, as much as you or your friends want it to. It takes coping mechanisms such as breathing steady, and placing your hand on your chest to help slow down your heart. Figuring out why they even happen in the first place can be frustrating. As for me, I believe that it's just genetic. Which on some days, seems like the worst. Would it be better for it to have been just one traumatic experience, that you could fix and be done with it? Mostly I  think so, but at the same time, I have been through some extremely tough experiences. So maybe it's just a bunch of traumatic spells that led me here. The best thing that I have found that helps is distracting myself with a movie, or cooking, or playing guitar. But sometimes they are so bad that I forget everything completely. I forget that I can even play guitar. It's like you get lost in a long tunnel and you are scratching at the ceiling, trying to get out, but you can't because the ceiling is made out of brick.
It's not fair to me or to loved ones.

I feel like this is a topic that I should discuss because one of the most important things to me is not feeling alone, and I don't want anyone to feel alone. Don't get me wrong, it's good to have alone time. I'm talking about loneliness and feeling separate. It eats me up inside knowing that I've made others feel alone because I withdraw while having an attack. But it also eats me up when I'm feeling alone whilst in the attack or not. I have found great relief from just reading about others online who go through this. I love reading their stories and finding myself agreeing with everything they are saying. They are going through the exact same things as myself, and I find comfort in the fact that there are others out there who deal with this every day. Which brings me back to why I wanted to discuss this subject. I'm not going to hide this fact about me because I want to bring that relief to someone else. My greatest dream is to while not only succeed with my band and in music, but to help people with it. So I made a pledge with myself a long time ago that I wasn't going to hide these things about me. What if one day, a young girl or boy hears a song of mine, and then reads up on me, and they find out that I suffer from panic attacks, and they do too. What a relief it will be for them, to know that someone goes through this but they have also made a life.

I imagine a life full of warmth, music, dogs, and love. If I read that sentence about three years ago, I would not recognize myself. But I do think that I have served my time and deserve that warmth and magic that I so desperately crave. No one should have to suffer forever. I'm not better yet, but I'm hunkering down to work hard at losing this part of me. Perhaps I will read this very post on days that I feel like the world is ending, and I hope others do as well.

I am thankful for my friends who stay on the phone with me, and who come over when I need them too. I am thankful for Guy and his patience. I am thank for Louie, the dog, for just being a great dog. I am thankful for a good, very zen job. And I am thankful for myself, because I have alot of music to offer, and love to give.

We should all learn to be lighter (in our hearts, NOT in our weight, ha)
Enough with heavy hearts, it's time to shine and be free.

p.s. I'm interested in getting a tattoo to remind me to be free, if anyone has any ideas, please feel free to message me on facebook, or email me at

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

AcoustiCafe: Pittsburgh's Treasure

There's a weekly gem in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is called AcoustiCafe.  It is really nothing more than an open mic...
Morgan on the cover of the City Paper playing at AcoustiCafe

I know, I know: most artists hear "open mic" and immediately tune out--myself included.  You think of lousy crowds of self-centered, competitive musicians, a shallow talent pool, and an overall lame time.  Or, at best, a good time with a few other musicians, but with nobody else really listening.

But ask any touring artist who happens to be passing through Pittsburgh on a Monday night, and they'll tell you: AcoustiCafe is unlike the rest.  The consistent level of talent we see on a weekly basis from locals and touring acts is remarkable. But what makes it truly special are all the non-performers who come every week just to listen.  Without them, I have no doubt AcoustiCafe would deteriorate into another low-rent talent show.  The crowd has a musical sense that I find is uncommon in the music club scene: they know when to sing and when to shout, but they also know when to shut up.  When Morgan and I have a good set, there can be nearly a hundred people in the room and you can hear a pin drop, yet if it's a sing-a-long, every voice joins in.

And the mainstays that make up the community of artists-- Mark Dignam, Brad Yoder, Judith Avers, Joy Ike, Paul Luc, Bear Cub, Pete Bush and the Hoi Palloi, Joel Lindsey, Jimbo Jackson, Clinton Clegg, Ben Shannon, Tim Ruff-- I could keep going, but I'll inevitably leave great acts out.  There are dozens.  These are brilliant artists and these are great friends.   Not only do we listen to each other, we play and sing with each other.  Eric George (the resident "drum slut") and Nathan Zoob (the guitar man) have been known to play on more acts than not on a given evening, making it decidedly difficult for them to get drunk (I feel for you, dudes).  Morgan and I are often invited up to sing songs we've never even heard before.  I'm incredibly grateful for this communal atmosphere.  We really owe Broken Fences itself to AcoustiCafe.  It was the common denominator that led to this band forming last year.

We're hosting this Monday, Feb. 13, so come out and play, listen, drink, and have a good time.  The theme is relationship songs that are NOT love songs.  See you there from 7-11.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Going it alone (DIY or DI-die)

Am I going to look in the mirror in five years and see a musician or a sleazy marketer?

Start with the obvious: the music industry has changed and continues to do so.  Music bloggers and advice-givers often talk about the old model versus the new model.  In the old model, you write your songs, play where you can, and hope you get heard by the right person and eventually hand-picked for a record label.  It was kind of like winning the lottery.  As a band or singer-songwriter playing your own music you really had no shot to make a living without distribution, and record labels were the ticket-holders.

That model still holds, but only for a very small minority of artists, and sadly only a small minority of those artists end up benefiting from the relationship in any lasting economic way.  So it should come as good news to artists like us that we need not depend on major labels anymore to "make it," but can do it ourselves.  The new model consists of establishing a fan base through a combination of live performing and social media marketing, and then monetizing the relationship with your fans.  The big buzz-acronyms are DIY (do-it-yourself) and DTF (direct-to-fan).  The new way to make a living playing music.

The problem with all of this is that there's a reason they stuck with the old model for 80+ years:

Artists SUCK at marketing. They just want to play their tunes.

We're no exception.  If we haven't made it clear up to this point in writing this blog, making our music is our motivation for just about everything we do; we live and breathe for it.  So I'm sitting here TWEETING (never thought I'd be saying that), wondering, is this poisoning my creativity?  Am I "selling out"?  Don't get me wrong, nothing makes me feel warmer and fuzzier than hearing from and engaging with fans.  Whether on social media or in person, there's nothing I'd rather do than talk to someone who was moved by our music.  But it's all the politics, the "who you know," the branding, the website building, merch ordering, and yes, ass-kissing that, if left unchecked, can really wear on the spirit.  We have to keep after all this and keep our live act in shape and keep writing songs and work our day jobs, and dishes and laundry and groceries and exercise and vet visits and taxes and I'M JUST ONE PERSON!

Quit bitching.  Lots of people have it harder.  You get to play music.

Phew, that was close.

I found this article of Jack White quotes, which helps me power through, and I always have good old Louis C.K. to keep things in perspective when I turn into a winey, spoiled hipster.  Don't want to be that guy.

I think I'll play guitar now.